The trickle-down effect of predictability: Secondary task performance benefits from predictability in the primary task

Magdalena Ewa Król, Michal Król

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Predictions optimize processing by reducing attentional resources allocation to expected or predictable sensory data. Our study demonstrates that these saved processing resources can be then used on concurrent stimuli, and in consequence improve their processing and encoding. We illustrate this “trickle-down” effect with a dual task, where the primary task varied in terms of predictability. The primary task involved detection of a pre-specified symbol that appeared at some point of a short video of a dot moving along a random, semi-predictable or predictable trajectory. The concurrent secondary task involved memorization of photographs representing either emotionally neutral or non-neutral (social or threatening) content. Performance in the secondary task was measured by a memory test. We found that participants allocated more attention to unpredictable (random and semi-predictable) stimuli than to predictable stimuli. Additionally, when the stimuli in the primary task were more predictable, participants performed better in the secondary task, as evidenced by higher sensitivity in the memory test. Finally, social or threatening stimuli were allocated more “looking time” and a larger number of saccades than neutral stimuli. This effect was stronger for the threatening stimuli than social stimuli. Thus, predictability of environmental input is used in optimizing the allocation of attentional resources, which trickles-down and benefits the processing of concurrent stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0180573
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume12
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2017

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