Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Priming Effects with Ambiguous Figures

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Priming Effects with Ambiguous Figures

Article excerpt

We varied the format and semantic content of primes to determine the degree to which they would influence the interpretation of ambiguous figures. The primes were objects or object names that were related in some way to one of the two organizations of the ambiguous figures. In Experiment 1, we provided some normative data regarding the stimulus materials, whereas in Experiment 2, an orienting question was used to focus attention on the semantic relationship between the prime and the figure. In Experiment 3, we used the orienting question to divert attention away from the relationship by asking about physical features of the figures. Recognition responses to biased versions of the figures and to new figures were measured. Primes that were loosely and indirectly associated with one of the two interpretations of an ambiguous figure were found to be effective at biasing the interpretation of an ambiguous figure in the direction of the primed alternative but only if attention was focused on the semantic relationship between the two stimuli. Attention to the physical characteristics of the stimuli during encoding eliminated the prime's influence on complex object perception. These findings are consistent with the conceptual priming literature and extend those of some recent studies (Balcetis & Dale, 2007; Feist & Gentner, 2007), which show that the interpretation of complex figures can be biased by the advanced presentation of related verbal information.

Pictures that can be interpreted in more than one way have intrigued researchers in visual perception since the early days of psychology. Long and Toppino (2004), in a review, suggested that a variety of sensory and cognitive processes are involved in explaining exactly how the same image can be organized in more than one way. These processes work in both top-down and bottom-up ways to influence what we see. In the present experiments, we focus on factors that are associated with cognitive set.

Balcetis and Dale (2007) investigated set effects by having participants read several paragraphs of material that were loosely and indirectly associated with one of the two interpretations of an ambiguous figure. When the participants were shown the ambiguous figure and asked to describe it, their responses were biased in the direction of the verbal material that appeared as the prime. This finding is important because it demonstrates the effects of cognitive set with a verbal rather than a visual prime, and in addition, the prime that is found to bias the interpretation of the figure is indirect and loosely associated with one of the versions of the figure. Previous work had not shown consistent priming with verbal material. For example, Leeper (1935) compared verbal and visual set by priming with a paragraph that described one of the organizations of the ambiguous figure with the biased figure itself. Verbal priming worked for one ambiguous figure but not for a second example that was tested, whereas visual priming was effective for both figures. Balcetis and Dale's findings differed from Leeper's in that they showed consistent priming effects across several ambiguous figures, and they used paragraphs that provided a verbal context for one of the two organizations of the figure but that did not describe the figure directly.

Although set effects have been demonstrated before, they resulted primarily from direct perceptual effects. For example, it has long been known that presenting a biased version of a figure in advance of the ambiguous one is an effective way of influencing the participants' interpretation of the picture (Botwinick, 1961; Goolkasian, 1987; Leeper, 1935). Also, Bugelski and Alampay (1961) showed that presenting a picture that is related to the biased version of the figure is sufficient to influence the interpretation of the ambiguous figure. As long as the prime is from the same perceptual set as the figure, it can influence the interpretation of the ambiguous figure. …

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