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Carla Eatherington

PhD student, Faculty of Science

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Biography

PhD student at the University of Nottingham. Interested in the role of attention within associative learning, and animal behaviour and cognition more generally.

Research Summary

I am investigating the link between selective attention and associative learning using eye-tracking as a measure of overt attention. I have eye-tracked a range of participants including: adults,… read more

Current Research

I am investigating the link between selective attention and associative learning using eye-tracking as a measure of overt attention. I have eye-tracked a range of participants including: adults, children and an orang-utan during a learned predictiveness task. Under conditions of high certainty we found that all participants directed progressively more attention towards the predictive cue in a compound at the expense of the irrelevant cue. These findings can be explained by the model of associative learning proposed by Mackintosh (1975); however, when we introduced a degree of uncertainty we found suggestions of support for the conflicting model proposed by Pearce and Hall (1980). I am currently investigating this effect further using canine participants to see whether the ability is confined to primates.

I have also conducted experiments using a modified version of an intra-/extra-dimensional shift in order to determine whether the effect is driven by a shift in overt attention. Findings revealed an attentional bias towards predictive cues which transferred from Stage 1 into Stage2. However, in the extra-dimensional shift condition the attentional bias from Stage 1 was only maintained for two trials in Stage 2 before participants shifted their attention to the 'new' predictive cues. Based on these findings it is clear that that the intra-/extra-dimensional shift effect reflects a change in overt attention but further research could be carried out to see whether this is also true for covert attention.

Following on from these studies we investigated a dichotomy in how the attentional models of associative learning are described and what is formalised in the models. When interpreting the models we often talk about things like prediction-error; however, the role of 'prediction' is not specified in the models because they only refer to associative strength and attention. The aim of this series of experiments was to investigate whether 'prediction' was necessary to obtain a learned bias in attention towards predictive cues. During the task letters were presented simultaneously and serially with a target stimulus which participants had to respond to. In order for a learned attentional bias to be established it was found that the cue needs to have high associative strength and in addition to that it needs to be predictive about the outcome.

Future research will focus on exploring the fate of irrelevant stimuli, and designing a relative validity task that can be used with wild squirrels and pet cats.

School of Psychology

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The University of Nottingham
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