Effects of Habitual and Contingency Experience on the Visual Discrimination Learning and Decision Time of 4-Month-Old Infants

Date of Graduation

Summer 1997


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

D. Wayne Mitchell


Research on infant habituation and novelty preference has provided reliable estimates of individual differences. However, what is lacking is a systematic study of the underlying mechanisms accounting for those differences. This study examined the effects of two types of pretraining experiences aimed at promoting exhaustive visual scanning of stimuli to enhance visual discrimination learning. There were three phases to this study. Phase 1 was an assessment of all infants' natural attending behavior to compare to existing laboratory norms. Phase 2 consisted of the random assignment of infants to one of three pretraining groups: Habitual, Contingency or Control. Infants in the Habitual pretraining group were provided 20 seconds of visual experience with the most salient stimulus component employed in a subsequent visual discrimination learning task. Infants in the Contingency pretraining group received four pretraining trials of a simplified visual discrimination task to provide reinforcement experience with the discriminative cue (the least salient stimulus component) employed in a subsequent visual discrimination task. Infants assigned to the Control group received no pretraining experience. All infants participated in Phase 3 which was a 14 trial visual discrimination task using a synchronous reinforcement schedule. Results indicated that infants who were given Habitual or Contingency pretraining displayed superior discrimination learning and faster decision times compared to those in the Control group. These results are discussed in terms of the limited scanning hypothesis and implications for using these pretraining methods in clinical settings are considered.

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© Stacey A Carter-Sand