The Relationship Between Visual Scanning, Heart Rate, and Cognitive Functioning

Date of Graduation

Spring 2007


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

D. Wayne Mitchell


The primary focus of this explanatory study was to examine the relationship between visual scanning (VS), heart rate (HR), and intelligence. A secondary focus was to pilot VS with individuals diagnosed with ADHD in order to conduct qualitative comparisons of VS data. All participants viewed 4 stimuli: a face, a parakeet, a TAT photo, and the Trial Making Test (TMT). VS and HR was measured concurrently. VS to the face and parakeet was used to assess stability/reliability in individual's natural propensity to visually scan. On the TAT stimulus, participants were instructed to search for a hidden object. On the TMT stimulus, participants completed the task via standardized instruction, with an exception being that they were to point rather than draw a line to the next component. VS behavior was found to be moderately stable/reliable between the face and the parakeet stimuli. Overall, individuals with high intelligence test scores tended to scan more, particularly to the parakeet and during completing the TMT task, than those individuals with low intelligence test scores. There were no significant differences in HR between groups. However, the direction of HR was different across stimuli; significant HR acceleration was observed on the TMT task. This finding is in accordance with the intake rejection hypothesis (Coles, 1983; Jennings, 1986). Qualitative differences between higher intelligence (HIQ), lower intelligence (LIQ), and ADHD groups were observed. HIQ individuals tended to display more exhaustive and systematic VS; LIQ individuals displayed systematic scanning behavior but not exhaustive; and individuals with ADHD displayed scanning behavior that was neither systematic nor exhaustive. The discovery of such VS differences should have important implications for understanding individual cognitive processing differences and aid in designing appropriate intervention schemes for those with related disorders.


visual scanning, heart rate, cognitive functioning, intake-rejection hypothesis, intelligence

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© Sissy Ratliff-Seamans