Cognition Workshop 04/06: Chong Zhao

Stable attentional control demands across individuals despite extensive learning

Classic models of expertise propose that when first learning a task, success is primarily determined by the individual’s attention and working memory ability. However, as skill is developed performance becomes less dependent on attention control and loads more on acquired long term memory structures for the task. Here, we tested whether individual differences in attentional control ability continued to predict long term memory performance for picture sequences even after participants showed massive learning increases for the sequence via multiple repetitions. In Experiment 1-3, subjects performed a location source memory task in which they were presented a sequence of 30 objects shown in one of four quadrants, or 30 centrally positioned objects with an external black square in one of the four quadrants, and then were tested on each item’s position. We then repeated the procedure with the same object sequences, such that each subject was shown and tested on the same sequence 5 times. We replicated the prior findings of a relationship between attentional control and overall memory accuracy. Interestingly, we discovered that individual differences in attentional control continually predicted memory accuracy across all repetitions. In Experiment 4, we sought to replicate our finding with verbal materials, so that the participants were asked to memorize 45 word pairs and perform cued recall tasks as memory measure. We replicated the correlation between attentional control and overall memory accuracy, as well as the stable attentional control demands even with extensive learning of word pairs. Together, these results suggest that developing expertise does not eliminate the contribution of attentional control ability for long term memory, but may instead reflect more optimized attention control during expert task performance.

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