New Research From Psychological Science

On the Strength of Connections Between Localist Mental Modules as a Source of Frequency-of-Occurrence Effects
Derek Besner, Sarah Moroz, and Shannon O’Malley

How do people become familiar with items and events that appear frequently in their lives? To test potential mechanisms, the reaction times to numerical stimuli presented in either Arabic numerals (the more frequent form in which numbers are presented) or words (less frequent) were compared in different tasks. There was a difference in the reaction times between the two formats for a parity judgment task (in which participants indicated whether a number was odd or even) but not for a test in which participants read each stimulus aloud. The results suggest that the connection between numerals and the mental module for semantics is stronger than the connection between words and that module. Thus, familiarity may be a function of the strength of connections between various localist mental modules.

Individual Differences in Recovery Time From Attentional Capture
Keisuke Fukuda and Edward K. Vogel

Differences in working memory (WM) capacity have been attributed to a person’s ability to control their attention, and low WM capacity individuals are thought to be more prone to have their attention captured by distractors. To test an alternative theory–that high-capacity individuals simply recover more quickly from distraction–two experiments using psychophysical and electrophysiological methods were carried out to test the susceptibility and recovery times of participants to attention capture. Evidence was found that high- and low-capacity individuals had their attention captured equally by a distractor, but high-capacity individuals returned their attention to the target more quickly than did low-capacity individuals.

Contextual Illusions Reveal the Limit of Unconscious Visual Processing
Julia J. Harris, D. Samuel Schwarzkopf, Chen Song, Bahador Bahrami, and Geraint Rees

Certain visual illusions, such as the Kanizsa triangle, can affect how a person perceives brightness. But which part of the illusion makes it work? Researchers manipulated different parts of the Kanizsa triangle, and other visual illusions, to determine the spatial context that was necessary for the illusion. The magnitude of the illusion depended on the size of certain elements as well as on the border and background of the illusion illustration. These results show that perceived brightness depends on low level mechanisms at the borders of the stimulus.

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