Experimental Psychology Conference 2013

I was recently awarded the prize of best poster presentation at the 40th Australian Experimental Psychology Conference. Adelaide, Australia: 3-6 April 2013. The abstract for this presentation appears below.

The contributions of expectancy and prior exposure to the surprise response in visual search

James Retell, Stefanie Becker & Roger Remington

The School of Psychology, The University of Queensland

In the context of visual search, surprise is the phenomenon by which a previously unseen and unexpected stimulus
exogenously attracts spatial attention. Capture by such a stimulus occurs, by definition, independent of tasks goals
and is thought to be dependent on the extent to which the stimulus deviates from expectations (Horstmann, 2005,
JEP:HPP). However, the relative contributions of prior exposure and expectation to the surprise response have not
yet been systematically investigated. Here we investigated the extent to which surprise is related to never having
seen a given stimulus before versus the extent to which a given stimulus violates task expectancies. Across conditions
we varied prior exposure to the motion stimulus – seen versus unseen – and top-down expectations of occurrence
– expected versus unexpected – to assess the extent to which each of these factors contributes to surprise. When
participants were told to expect an unexpected task-irrelevant stimulus, the magnitude of the surprise response
was augmented. In contrast, prior expose to the unexpected stimulus had no effect on the magnitude of the
surprise response. These results suggest that the expectancies driving surprise may have different characteristics
than previously thought and that surprise may be immune to cognitive strategies to attenuate it.

~ Please contact me at jdretell@gmail.com for a reprint of the poster.

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