Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Effects of Precuing Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions on Right-Left Prevalence

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Effects of Precuing Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions on Right-Left Prevalence

Article excerpt

When stimuli and responses can be coded along horizontal and vertical dimensions simultaneously, a right-left prevalence effect is often obtained for which the advantage for a compatible mapping is larger on the horizontal dimension than on the vertical dimension. The present study investigated the role of preparatory processes in this right-left prevalence effect using a method in which the relevant dimension was cued at short and long intervals prior to presentation of the target stimulus. In three experiments, the right-left prevalence effect did not vary significantly in magnitude as a function of cue-target interval, suggesting that the effect is due primarily to relative salience of the horizontal and vertical codes, as determined by the task structure, and not to a greater ease of attending to the horizontal dimension.

When stimulus and response locations are arrayed at the ends of one of the major diagonals of imaginary squares, they can be coded along both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. Subjects can be instructed to respond on the basis of the stimulus' horizontal or vertical location. When the responses and the stimuli are placed along the same diagonal, the mapping of stimuli to responses can be either compatible or incompatible on both dimensions. However, when the responses and the stimuli are placed along opposite diagonals, the mapping can be compatible on either the horizontal or the vertical dimension, but not both. A common finding is that even if subjects are instructed in terms of the vertical dimension, performance is better when horizontal compatibility is maintained than when vertical compatibility is maintained, a phenomenon that Nicoletti and Umiltà (1984) named the right-left prevalence effect.

Accounts of the right-left prevalence effect tend to concentrate on automatic or strategic processes. Nicoletti and Umiltà (1984, 1985; Nicoletti, Umiltà, Tressoldi, & Marzi, 1988) focused on the former because they obtained an advantage for responses compatible on the horizontal dimension compared with those compatible on the vertical dimension, even though their subjects were instructed in terms of the vertical dimension. Nicoletti and Umiltà (1984, 1985) proposed that the right-left prevalence effect was due to an inherent advantage for horizontal coding over vertical coding, and Nicoletti et al. (1988) and Umiltà and Nicoletti (1990) suggested even more strongly that horizontal codes prevent vertical codes from being formed. In contrast, Hommel (1996) emphasized primarily strategic processes, arguing that the right-left prevalence effect in Nicoletti and Umiltà's studies was due to their subjects' not heeding the vertical instructions and choosing instead to attend to the horizontal dimension. Hommel (1996) suggested that this strategy of attending to the horizontal dimension was adopted because the horizontal codes may have been available sooner than the vertical codes in Nicoletti and Umiltà's experiments (see also Rubichi, Nicoletti, Pelosi, & Umiltà, 2004). As evidence for this account, Hommel showed that when subjects were urged to respond in terms of only the vertical dimension or only the horizontal dimension, an advantage for the instructed dimension was obtained, even when that dimension was vertical.

Hommel (1996) noted that although the instructions to respond on the basis of the vertical or the horizontal dimension altered the relative speed at which the two dimensions were processed (i.e., showed an advantage for the instructed dimension), there was still a right-left prevalence effect: The benefit of vertical compatibility was larger than that of horizontal compatibility under vertical instructions, and vice versa under horizontal instructions, but the former benefit was smaller than the latter. Vu and Proctor (2001, 2002) called this the "weak" form of right-left prevalence because it is evident only when collapsed across instructions. The asymmetry in the instruction effects indicates that even though attending to the vertical dimension can produce a benefit for that dimension, it does not eliminate the tendency for the horizontal spatial codes to be more salient than the vertical codes. …

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