That spectacular data I mentioned some time ago…

Some time ago I mentioned some “spectacular data” were on the way.  Today I will present them.  After much mind-numbing analysis to refine the data down to the brass tacks presented here, they don’t seem hardly so spectacular.  I suppose it is like the cook who never cares for the meal that he or she prepares as a function of preparing it (or, maybe in this case the food just really isn’t that good).

The “spectacular data” are those presented in the second and third experiments in this post, though those in the first experiment are interesting as well.   I’m presenting these data in the general form as I presented them in a poster, in the hallway, on the last day, on the last session, of the 17th meeting of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology.

The method is the Learning Game, described elsewhere in this blog.  In the last two experiments we used an SMIVision RED system to monitor participant’s gaze.  The Cliff’s notes are that a keypress response is attached to a spaceship.  Later, that spaceship is paired with a sensor CS.  Learning is evidenced by the emergence of the keypress response to the CS.

The motivation that I had for combining and presenting these data as I did came from some reviewer comments I received on a recent paper that I had submitted.  The question in that paper is unimportant, but what aroused my attention was that the reviewer suggested that perhaps participants were “uncertain” and then used that vague notion to explain the findings.   I found myself at a loss for a response.  In short, I suppose in my own smug way I couldn’t quite believe I needed to respond.

I began to wonder how the use of such a term became acceptable.  I then recalled a quote from Skinner:

“I accuse cognitive scientists of reviving a theory in which feelings and state of mind observed through introspection are taken as the causes of behavior rather than collateral effects of the causes.”


Skinner, 1987, Upon Further Reflection, Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice Hall.

I took that statement as mostly a criticism of the methods of cognitive science, and a lack of appreciation of the structure and function of properly anchored theory development where the constructs, at least within an experimental setting, can and should have precise definitions.  I then began to look at work in my field that attempts to pursue understanding of associative learning using introspective methods I view those methods as any task that relies on self-report of an internal state that would supposedly result in behavior, as opposed to the behavior itself, such as causal/predictive learning tasks.  I became frustrated at the degree to which such theory anchoring is overlooked in my own precious field.

It is unclear to me what it is that has led us to “believe” that we must ask people questions about their beliefs/mental states and how they supposedly change as a function of our manipulations when rich inferences remain possible through the study of behavior.

Thus, in addition to presenting the data and the interesting phenomena to which they apply, I had the more pithy and high-minded goal of demonstrating just what I allude to in the previous paragraph: Complex processes are accessible without introspection.  Just exactly who I think I am is unclear”Halo”, but I felt like preaching a bit with the last sentence of the abstract.

The abstract is below.  In short, I present three experiments which demonstrate that participants learn “what, when, and where” events can occur, and that such learning obeys principles derived from associative learning. 

I’m cutting and pasting directly from the presentation, hence the gold-on-black formatting.

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Nothing terribly “spectacular” about the data above, but they do demonstrate a solid “blocking” effect and show that response timing emerges with the conditioned response.  Given that the blocking group is showing a weaker response than the controls, and that the response is still well-timed, one could argue that timing even emerges before the response.  These should be interesting data for anyone who has followed Peter Balsam’s work on such issues (e.g., Balsam, P. D., Drew, M. R., & Yang, C. (2002). Timing at the start of associative learning. Learning and Motivation, 33, 141–155.).

Now to the Spectacular Data…  The next experiment was undertaken to determine if human subjects will goal-track.  That is, do they come to direct their gaze to the areas of the screen where the US will arrive.

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We also monitored the participant’s pupil dilation, with the hope that pupils would come to dilate to the CS as they began to expect the US. 

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Pupil dilations are not very interpretable with the present method because participants are responding during the CS, and that responding alone can cause the pupils to dilate.  Work from the lab of Harald Lachnit has shown that pupils will dilate in anticipation of responding.  With this method, all participants respond to the US, but some never learn to respond to the CS.  When I remove these non-responders and look at their pupil data, they also show the dilation response.  That is, their pupils dilate during the CS even though they are not responding at that moment.  Thus, the variable responsible (responding on the key or anticipation of more responding on the key) for the pupil dilation among the responders is ambiguous.

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One Response to That spectacular data I mentioned some time ago…

  1. Pingback: Misc. fears, ramblings, and upcoming posts. | Byron's blog.

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