Rayner Fund Research Impact: Connecting the Dots Without Top-Down Knowledge

patrick sadil
Patrick Sadil

The Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award helped support a project led by Patrick Sadil, now published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Connecting the Dots Without Top-Down Knowledge: Evidence for Rapidly-Learned Low-Level Associations That Are Independent of Object Identity (Sadil, Potter, Huber, & Cowell 2019).

The project explored how people encode and remember visual information. In the researchers' experiments, participants studied lists of everyday objects—such as a teapot, mailbox, or spatula—and were tested on their memory of the objects' visual details. By presenting the objects in different ways, the research team manipulated the kind of information that would be available for participants to learn.

3D glasses showing how one eye can see a different picture than the other
3D glasses used in continuous flash suppression

For example, in one condition participants were presented pictures of the objects but their awareness of the them was limited through a technique called continuous flash suppression. The technique involved using specialized 3D glasses to present different images to participants' eyes. One eye was shown the object while the other was shown a dynamic and salient image of overlapping squares. Despite being able to look at the object with one eye, participants were only aware of the other, more salient image.

Sadil notes, "This allowed us to have participants “study” the visual details of objects without knowing what they were studying. Yet even though they were not aware of studying these objects, participants learned the objects’ visual details. This project tested key predictions from theories of memory and perception, about the kinds of information people learn and how they can learn it. I am grateful that the Rayner Memorial Award supported me and this project."