Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Perceivers Vary in Their Capacity to Benefit from Feedback in Learning to Perceive Length by Dynamic Touch

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Perceivers Vary in Their Capacity to Benefit from Feedback in Learning to Perceive Length by Dynamic Touch

Article excerpt

Published online: 20 December 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Earlier ecologically motivated studies have revealed substantial individual differences in perceptual learning: Individuals varied in their ability to attune to a specifying variable. A possible source of these individual differences is between-subjects variation in the capacity to benefit from feedback. Although this hypothesis was postulated by Withagen & van Wermeskerken (2009), their experiment could not exclude other factors that might be involved. The aim of the present experiment was to provide a more critical test of their hypothesis. To this end, we trained two groups of participants in length perception by dynamic touch in two different learning environments. In one environment, it was easier for a perceiver to separate the perceptual noise from the error that resulted from the detection of a nonspecifying variable. This separation was more difficult to make in the other learning environment. All of the participants responded to the feedback in the easy environment, but not all of them did in the difficult environment. This indicates that individuals indeed differ in their capacities to benefit from feedback. The implications of these results for recent debates on individual differences are discussed.

Keywords Attunement . Dynamic touch . Individual differences . Learning environments . Perceptual learning

Over the last decade, an upsurge of studies have focused on individual differences in perceptual, cognitive, and motor functioning (e.g., Arzamarski, Isenhower, Kay, Turvey, & Michaels, 2010; Bergmann Tiest & Kappers, 2007;D.M. Jacobs, Michaels, & Runeson, 2000; R. A. Jacobs, 2009; Kappers, 2003; Kostrubiec, Zanone, Fuchs, & Kelso, 2012; Michaels & de Vries, 1998; Michaels & Isenhower, 2011; Runeson & Andersson, 2007; Runeson, Juslin, & Olsson, 2000; Vegter, de Groot, Lamoth, Veeger, & Van der Woude, in press; Withagen & Caljouw, 2011; Withagen & van Wermeskerken, 2009). These studies argued against the dominant methodology of averaging over participants and drawing general conclusions about the human mind. Motivated by different theoretical perspectives, these researchers found the study of individual results to be more insightful. For example, Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) argued that most behavioral scientists test only participants from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) societies, but nevertheless draw broad conclusions about the human mind. In their view this is seriously mistaken, because substantial cultural differences in cognitive abilities exist (see also Nisbett, 2003; Nisbett & Miyamoto, 2005; van der Kamp, Withagen, & de Wit, 2013). Advocating a dynamical-systems perspective, Kostrubiec et al. (2012) argued that the intrinsic dynamics of learners vary, which gives rise to distinct learning paths. Adopting an evolutionary perspective, Withagen and Chemero (2009) similarly argued that members of a species vary in their perceptual systems. After all, Darwin'stheoryof evolution by natural selection entails variability among the members of species.

The abundant demonstrations of individual differences in perceptual, motor, and cognitive functioning have significant theoretical and practical implications. Among other things, they suggest that psychological theories need to include organismal factors to account for the experimental findings. In the present article, we aim to further this line of thinking in the context of the ecological theory of perceptual learning. This theory was developed by the Gibsons in the 1950s and 1960s (Gibson, 1966; Gibson & Gibson, 1955). According to their theory, a myriad of informational variables are available in ambient arrays, and these variables differ in their degrees of usefulness. Specifying variables are the most useful ones; they relate one-to-one to the to-be-perceived property. …

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