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Stefan Bourrier, James Enns; Attentional control strategies lead to different task performance across cognitive domains. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1244. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.12.1244.
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Performance for visual search improves when subjects use passive, intuitive attentional strategies versus actively directed ones (Smilek & Enns, 2006). It has also been suggested that visual search tasks benefit from bottom-up mechanisms (Proulx, 2005). Smilek & Enns acknowledge that the passive advantage may not transfer to other cognitive domains and Pinto et al. (2013) suggested that attentional mechanisms might be independent in both top-down and bottom-up processing. In order to test this possibility we ran a battery of executive cognitive tasks that we predicted would be impeded by the passive attentional strategies that were shown to be beneficial for visual search. Two randomly selected groups of participants completed a pre-test comprised of a backward digit span task, followed by a subset of Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Before repeating these batteries in a post-test, group 1 was instructed, in a manner similar to Smilek & Enns, to “actively direct” their attention (i.e., maintain active focus on the stimuli), and group 2 was instructed to be “as receptive as possible”, using a passive, broad focus approach (i.e., using intuition and “gut-feeling”), allowing targets and answers to “pop” into their minds. Group 1 (active) scored significantly higher on post-test items while group 2 (passive) scored significantly lower. This showed that executive cognitive tasks benefit from actively directed attentional strategies, and while passive attentional strategies may be conducive to tasks reliant on visual tasks requiring bottom-up processing, they were found to be a hindrance for those requiring top-down processing. These findings suggest that visual search tasks require distinct cognitive processes compared to complex intelligence batteries, and also provide support for claims that these distinct processes may function with different attentional mechanisms.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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