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The Role of Cognitive Factors in the Recognition of Ambiguous Visual Stimuli

Frederiksen, John R.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
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Subject/Key Words:
National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Naval Research, Princeton University, Cognitive Ability, Pictorial Stimuli, Recognition (Psychology), Visual Perception


The effect of five cognitive abilities on the recognition of out-of-focus pictures was investigated using a factor extension procedure which is sensitive to differences among the slides in the abilities they require for recognition. In addition to recognition point measures, the subjects received scores reflecting their rate of hypothesis formation during the early stages of blur. The results indicated that the pictures did not all require the same cognitive abilities for their recognition. Nevertheless, some general effects of the cognitive abilities on slide recognition, which were independent of the particular picture, were also noticed. It was found that the ability to visualize (to transform the image of a spatial pattern into other visual arrangements) was negatively associated with early slide recognition, while Speed of Closure (the ability to unify an apparently disparate perceptual field into a single percept) was positively related to early recognition. It was also observed that visualizers tended to make fewer guesses about the blurred pictures than did nonvisualizers, while people who were high in Speed of Closure produced many initial hypotheses. It was found that the chances of recognizing early were greater for subjects who produced many initial hypotheses than for subjects who had few initial ideas. These results cast doubt upon a theory of interference in visual recognition which states that early erroneous hypotheses inhibit recognition. The status of Speed of Closure as a separate, unitary cognitive ability was also questioned. On the basis of the great similarity between the relations of recognition point and Speed of Closure to the other variables employed in this study, it was suggested that tests for Speed of Closure may potentially involve the same interference effects which are observed in experiments in perceptual recognition.

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