Increasing salience of competitors increases selective visual attention and induces more analytic problem solving
Tiffani Ng1, Mark Beeman1; 1Northwestern University
Analytical problem solving requires more selective conceptual attention whereas insight solving requires less selective attention. A prior experiment demonstrated that even selecting global components of visual hierarchical stimuli increases analytic solving of verbal puzzles, putatively due to increased attentional selectivity. This experiment tested whether varying the salience of competing local stimuli, while participants responded to the global stimulus, directly modulated attentional selectivity in subsequent verbal puzzles. 44 participants completed Compound Remote Associates problems before and after a hierarchical letter task in which they assessed whether the global level was a target letter. Two groups judged equally-sized global letters comprised of either small local letters (global-salient group) or large local letters (local-salient group). Ignoring the larger and more salient task-irrelevant local stimuli should require increased selective attention, which should, in turn, increase subsequent analytic solving. Participants who judged global-salient stimuli did not reliably change their rate of insight or analytic solving following the letter task. In contrast, participants who judged local-salient stimuli solved reliably more problems analytically after the letter task than at baseline (p<.05), without changing insight solving. Compared to global-salient participants, local-salient participants showed reliable and consistent congruency effects (slower responses when the two levels conflicted) in two inductions (both p<.01), demonstrating the need to increase attentional selectivity. Thus, performing a visual task with salient and strongly competing irrelevant stimuli requires more selective visual attention and subsequently induces more analytic solving of verbal puzzles, compared to performing the same visual task with less salient irrelevant stimuli.
Topic Area: THINKING: Problem solving