Date of Graduation

Fall 2009


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

D. Wayne Mitchell


The purpose of this experiment was to investigate the effects of pretraining (visual experience) on visual scanning (VS) and visual discrimination learning (VDL) in adults. In addition, a heart rate (HR) model of visual learning has been proposed. In the model, it is predicted that during discrimination learning there are three distinct levels/stages of processing: HR deceleration below baseline, HR acceleration above baseline and a return of HR deceleration below baseline. It is predicted that discrimination learning, as well as these HR stages, are effected directly by prior pretraining experience (Contingency or Habitual). Participants were assigned randomly to one of two experimental groups or a control group. The two experimental groups received two different types of visual pretraining prior to a VDL task while the control group received no pretraining. Contingency pretraining involved the presentation of a simplified VDL task. Habitual pretraining involved the presentation of the most salient stimulus features used in the subsequent VDL task. Overall, the pretraining experiences were effective in increasing VS, and altering the direction and magnitude of HR. These results are interpreted as supporting, in part, Mitchell's (2005) HR model and Mitchell's (1990) "limited scanning hypothesis.”


visual discrimination, visual learning, visual scanning, pretraining, heart rate

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© Caitlin R. Vaught

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