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Relax! Cognitive strategy influences visual search

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Two experiments evaluated whether visual search can be made more efficient by having participants give up active control over the guidance of attention. In Experiment 1 participants were instructed to search while either actively directing their attention to the target or by passively allowing the target to just “pop” into their minds. Results showed that passive instructions led to more efficient search on a hard task but not on an easy task. In Experiment 2 participants completed the search task either by itself or concurrently with a memory task. This yielded the same pattern of results as Experiment 1; a hard search was completed more efficiently when performed concurrently with a memory task than when performed alone. These findings suggest (a) that the efficiency of some difficult searches can be improved by instructing participants to relax and adopt a passive cognitive strategy and (b) the improved efficiency results from a reduced reliance on slow executive control processes and a greater reliance on rapid automatic processes for directing visual attention.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada 2: York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 3: University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Publication date: 2006-08-01

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