New Research From Psychological Science

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

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.

Stereopsis and Artistic Talent: Poor Stereopsis Among Art Students and Established Artists

Bevil Conway, Margaret Livingstone, and Rosa Lafer-Sousa

Artists will often close one eye while they draw so that they can overcame stereopis—the depth created by differences between the two eyes’ view of a single image—and thereby focus better on certain aspects of an object such as shading. Researchers compared the stereoscopic abilities of art students to college students with different majors. The art students had lower stereo accuracy than the other students did. Also, by quantifying eye alignment through photographs of established artists, they found that artists had misaligned eyes more often than did control subjects, which supports the conclusion that artists have poorer stereopsis than the general population.

Does Easily Learned Mean Easily Remembered?: It Depends on Your Beliefs About Intelligence

David Miele, Bridgid Finn, and Daniel Molden

People tend to think that information easily learned is also easily remembered (the ELER heuristic), but different beliefs about intelligence and its malleability can affect how people approach learning. Volunteers were given Indonesian-English vocabulary pairs to study, and they were asked how easily they would remember each pair before they were given a recall test. When participants who attributed intelligence to innate ability (entity theorists) and those who attributed intelligence to effort (incremental theorists) were given easy vocabulary pairs, both groups predicted they would remember the words. When the groups were given hard vocabulary pairs, however, the entity theorists predicted they would remember fewer pairs, while the incremental theorists predicted that they would remember just as many of the hard pairs as of the easy pairs.

Hierarchical Encoding in Visual Working Memory: Ensemble Statistics Bias Memory for Individual Items

Timothy Brady and George Alvarez

Current models of visual working memory assume that people encode memories of objects individually. Yet, new research has shown that items surrounding an object can influence a person’s recollection of it. When observers were asked to recall the size of a single circle after viewing an image with multiple circles, they tended to report a larger size if the other circles were large and a smaller size if the surrounding circles were small. Therefore, items in visual working memory may not be stored independently, and aspects of surrounding items may affect how items are recalled.

When Does Feeling of Fluency Matter?: How Abstract and Concrete Thinking Influence Fluency Effects

Claire Tsai and Manoj Thomas

Cognitive fluency is a measure of how easy it is to think about something, and studies have shown that people prefer more fluent (easy-to-process) stimuli over less fluent stimuli. To determine whether encouraging people to think in a specific manner would mitigate fluency effects, researchers tested whether encouraging people to think concretely (by naming examples of everyday objects) or abstractly (by considering categories for everyday objects) would affect their preference for a more fluent or less fluent stimulus (in this case, a clear or blurry advertisement for chocolate). Overall, the researchers found that the concrete thinkers had a strong preference for the more fluent stimulus, while the abstract thinkers had no clear preference.

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