New Research from Psychological Science

Sound-Symbolism Effects in the Absence of Awareness: A Replication Study
Tom Heyman, Anne-Sofie Maerten, Hendrik Vankrunkelsven, Wouter Voorspoels, and Pieter Moors

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Humans tend to associate certain sounds with certain shapes (e.g., the nonword bouba is more often associated with round shapes, whereas the nonword kiki is more often associated with angular shapes). In a previous study, Hung, Styles, and Hsieh (2017) claimed that these associations can occur even before an individual becomes aware of the shapes. Rendering the shapes invisible using continuous flash suppression (CFS), they found that congruent stimuli (e.g., bouba presented in a round shape) broke suppression and became visible faster than incongruent stimuli (e.g., kiki presented in a round shape). In the present study, Heyman and colleagues replicated Hung et al.’s experiment with a larger sample. They presented a dynamic noise pattern to the participant’s dominant eye while the visual stimulus was presented to the other eye (i.e., CFS). During CFS, the stimulus is initially invisible but eventually breaks suppression, and participants are asked to press a key as soon as any part of the stimulus became visible. Participants responded more quickly to congruent stimuli than to incongruent stimuli. Heyman and colleagues also validated the procedure by presenting upright and inverted faces as the target stimuli and verifying that participants identified the upright faces faster than the inverted faces, as CFS literature suggests they would. These results are consistent with the notion that congruent sound-shape stimuli gain preferential access to awareness and may serve as a basis to explore the boundary conditions of the effect and the underlying processes, the researchers suggest.

How to Create Objects With Your Mind: From Object-Based Attention to Attention-Based Objects
Joan Danielle K. Ongchoco and Brian J. Scholl

When staring at a gridlike pattern (e.g., graph paper or tiles), individuals can “see” structured objects (e.g., the letter H). This effect might occur because attention selects specific objects on the basis of certain cues, such as continuity and closure. But attention might also be object-based even when the “objects” are not defined by any explicit cues, this research suggests. Participants viewed grids and attended to particular squares until they could “see” shapes resembling a capital H, a capital I, two parallel horizontal lines, or two parallel vertical lines. After this scaffolded-attention procedure, participants saw two probe lines juxtaposed with the grid lines (either vertically or horizontally) for 250 ms and then reported whether the probes were the same or different lengths. Participants were more accurate about the probe lines’ length when these lines matched the shapes participants had been instructed to “see,” and no effects occurred when participants had been instructed to see the control shapes, “H” or “I”. Ongchoco and Scholl replicated this same-object advantage using larger samples, larger grids, and probes that were not necessarily parallel to the objects. Given these findings, the researchers suggest that attentional processes might lead to the formation of object representations, which would explain the experience of seeing shapes when staring at grids. They conjecture that these effects might reflect an intimate relationship between attention and perceptual grouping, with attentional processes not only being recruited by objects (i.e., object-based attention) but also creating objects (i.e., attention-based objects).

Searching for Rewards Like a Child Means Less Generalization and More Directed Exploration
Eric Schulz, Charley M. Wu, Azzurra Ruggeri, and Björn Meder

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Adults and children seem to explore their environment differently while searching for rewards. Schulz and colleagues tested three different hypotheses that attribute these differences to children’s (a) more frequent random searching, (b) preference for exploring uncertain options, or (c) narrower generalization of experiences. They tested younger children (7- to 8-year-olds), older children (9- to 11-year olds), and adults (19- to 55-year-olds) with a search-for-rewards task. Participants saw grids of 64 tiles, in which rewards (points that could be converted into cash) were distributed according to spatial location (i.e., similar rewards were closer together). Participants could click on 25 tiles to reveal and select the value of the rewards (they could select the same tile more than once). The grid environment was either smooth or rough, depending on whether the spatial location was more predictive or less predictive, respectively, of the rewards. All participants gained higher rewards in smooth environments than in rough environments, suggesting that all of them used spatial locations to predict rewards. Adults performed better than children, and older children performed better than younger children. Adults chose more tiles closer to each other and fewer unique options than children. Adults also learned faster (i.e., gained more rewards over trials), whereas children explored more extensively and chose areas with high uncertainty. Schulz et al. also built a predictive model with diverse search parameters and found that children do not seem to explore randomly but generalize less and rely on directed exploration more than adults. They propose that children are not random explorers but directed ones who are hungry for information in their environment and that generalization increases with age.