Thesis Title

Heart Rate Period-Defined Allocations of Attention Within a Visual Discrimination Learning Task


Keith M. Gora

Date of Graduation

Fall 2001


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

D. Wayne Mitchell

Subject Categories



This study examined visual discrimination learning in adults by monitoring associated short phasic changes of heart rate (HR). Fifty-three participants were given a Visual Synchronous Reinforcement Discrimination Task (VSRDT) to complete. Participants were asked to discriminate between two abstract stimuli identical with regard to two components but different on a third hidden component. The VSRDT consisted of 2 baseline trials, 10 learning trials, 2 maintenance trials, and 2 relearning trials, each presented until the participant accumulated 5 seconds of looking time to either or both stimuli. Participants were classified as a solver or non-solver and subsequent data analyses were based on solver and non-solver comparisons. Non-solver HR did not deviate significantly from resting levels during discrimination learning. However for solvers, using a rapid HR sampling technique, three periods of divergent HR within each trial of the VSRDT were identified. The magnitude and direction of these divergences are argued to be valid indicators of attentional processes used during discrimination learning. A HR-defined attentional model of discrimination learning is proposed. The study also examined the relationship between measures of intelligence and HR change during discrimination learning; however, no reliable relationship between intelligence and HR was found.


© Keith M. Gora