Incidental statistical summary representation over time

Oriet, Chris
Hozempa, Kadie
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Information taken in by the human visual system allows individuals to form statistical representations of sets of items. One's knowledge of natural categories includes statistical information, such as average size of category members and the upper and lower boundaries of the set. Previous research suggests that when subjects attend to a particular dimension of a set of items presented over an extended duration, they quickly learn about the central tendency of the set. However, it is unclear whether such learning can occur incidentally, when subjects are not attending to the relevant dimension of the set. The present study explored whether subjects could reproduce global statistical properties of a set presented over an extended duration when oriented to task-irrelevant properties of the set. Subjects were tested for their memory of its mean, its smallest and largest exemplars, the direction of its skew, and the relative distribution of the items. Subjects were able to accurately recall the average size circle, as well as the upper and lower boundaries of a set of 4,200 circles displayed over an extended period. This suggests that even without intending to do so, they were encoding and updating a statistical summary representation of a task-irrelevant attribute of the circles over time. Such incidental encoding of statistical properties of sets is thus a plausible mechanism for establishing a representation of typicality in category membership.

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Oriet, C., & *Hozempa, K. (2016). Incidental statistical summary representation over time. Journal of Vision, 16, 3. doi: 10.1167/16.3.3