Children's selective attention in contextual cueing

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University of Alabama Libraries

In this thesis, 20 younger children (6-7 years old), 20 older children (9-10 years old) and 20 young adults (18-21 years old) were tested using a modified contextual cueing procedure. They located one particular cartoon character (target) among two sets of other cartoon characters (distracters). The main purpose was to investigate how age interacts with selective attention in contextual cueing. Selective attention was manipulated by varying the degree of similarity between two sets of distracters. Specifically, two levels were used: low heterogeneity (distracters were similar to each other), and high heterogeneity (distracters were different from each other). The results suggested that the younger children exhibited impaired implicit learning in the low heterogeneity condition yet intact implicit learning in the high heterogeneity condition. In contrast, the adults demonstrated robust implicit learning in both conditions. The older children performed at an intermediate level, exhibiting intact implicit learning in both conditions yet at a slower acquisition rate in the low heterogeneity condition than the adults. Therefore a clear transition pattern was observed indicating a developmental difference in selective attention in the acquisition of contextual cueing effects. Older children and adults were more capable of exhibiting contextual cueing effects in the absence of a salient feature difference between distracter sets, suggesting an effective selective attention mechanism based on expectancy. Younger children relied more on salient features than spatial co-occurrences in visual search, suggesting a deficit in the selective attention mechanism. This deficit might be related with factors such as difficulty in perceptual grouping, immature selective attention competence, and limited perceptual and working memory capacities.

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Behavioral sciences, Developmental psychology, Cognitive psychology