Readings in Perception

By David C. Beardslee; Michael Wertheimer | Go to book overview

A. Perception of Words as Stimuli

SELECTION 45
Frequency of Usage as a Determinant of Recognition Thresholds for Words*, 1

RICHARD L. SOLOMON AND LEO POSTMAN

THE TACHISTOSCOPIC PRESENTATION of words has been used in attempts to detect the role of personality variables in perception. In general, the procedure has been to present printed words, drawn from various relevant "meaning" classes, for very short periods of exposure; the S's task is to identify the words. Recognition thresholds are determined by increasing either the duration of exposure or the intensity of illumination. These thresholds have been considered to be an index of perceptual sensitivity or ease of recognition for the stimuli. The thresholds have also been interpreted as measures of the amount of "stimulus material" necessary for elicitation of the correct response.

The results of such experiments have lent some support to the view that personality variables may be significant determiners of perceptual sensitivity to visually presented verbal stimuli. The demonstrable effects of such factors are not large in absolute terms but often appear to be internally consistent and statistically reliable. Evidence has been presented for the selective effects of personal values and needs on perceptual sensitivity as measured in the tachistoscopic situation (6, 7, 11, 12, 16). It has also been suggested that words which may arouse anxiety because of their emotional connotations have significantly higher thresholds than neutral words (8). There

____________________
*
From the J. exp. Psychol., 1952, 43, 195-201. Reprinted by permission of the authors and the publisher.
1
Parts of this research were supported by the Laboratory of Social Relations, Harvard University. Other parts were carried out at the University of California.

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