Poster D138, Monday, March 27, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Selective Attention to Global Stimuli Induces Analytic Problem Solving
Tiffani Ng1, Mark Beeman1; 1Northwestern University
Attention putatively mediates the distinctions between local versus global visual processing and between analytic versus insight problem solving. Processing local features of hierarchical displays requires narrow attention, whereas processing global features requires spatially broad attention. Similarly, solving problems analytically requires narrow and selective conceptual attention, whereas solving with insight is thought to require conceptually broader (and likely less selective) attention. Two experiments investigated whether and how attention to local versus global stimuli modulates problem solving. Participants completed Compound Remote Associates problems, then a modified hierarchical letter task, followed by more problems. If processing local features narrows attention, participants should increase analytic solving; however, detecting local targets only slightly (non-reliably) increased analytic solving. If attending to global features broadens attention and weakens selection, then participants should increase insight solving. Alternatively, if processing global features requires selective attention to the large (global) letter (while inhibiting local letters), participants should increase analytic solving. Results support the latter hypothesis: Participants who detected target letters at the global level reliably increased analytic solving (p<.01 in each experiment), without affecting insight solving. Additionally, the congruency effect (slower responses when the two levels conflicted) was larger, suggesting more selective attention was required, when responding to global letters (p<.05). Finally, across individuals, the size of the congruency effect correlated with initial problem solving processes: smaller congruency (better selection) with more analytic solving (r=-.22, p=.05), and larger congruency with more insight solving (r=.39, p=.01). Thus, in our paradigm, processing global letters requires selective attention, and induces more analytic solving.
Topic Area: THINKING: Problem solving