Range effects of an irrelevant dimension on classification.
In univariate classification tasks, subjects sort stimuli on the basis of the only attribute that varies. In orthogonal classification tasks, often called filtering tasks, there additionally are trial-to-trial variations in irrelevant attributes that the subjects are instructed to ignore. Performance is generally slower in filtering tasks than in univariate control tasks. We investigated this slowing in experiments of how the range of irrelevant trial-to-trial variation affects responses in pitch/loudness classification tasks. Using two levels of pitch and of loudness as stimuli, Experiment 1 replicated prior work showing that responses are slowed more when the range of the irrelevant dimension is made larger. Also in Experiment 1, sequential analyses showed that response time depends both on sequence and on the stimulus set independent of sequence. Experiments 2 and 3 used several levels on the irrelevant dimension and showed that responses to categorize loudness are slowed more by larger trial-to-trial pitch differences, but only on trials when the response repeats. When the response changes, performance is essentially unaffected by trial-to-trial irrelevant variation. This interaction supports the conclusion that slowed average performance in orthogonal classification tasks, which is known as Garner interference, is not due to difficulties that subjects have in filtering stimulus attributes. It is due to how subjects process successive stimulus differences. We call for more frequent reports of sequential analyses, because these can reveal information that is not available from data averages.
Huettel, SA; Lockhead, GR
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