An evaluation of the effects of vigilance performance upon the automatic process of frequency estimation



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Texas Tech University


Past research has shown that subject gender and mental load may have significant effects upon performance. In studies where gender differences have been reported, males have been found to be superior to females on vigilance tasks. However, it was suggested here that this is resultant from traditional male superiority on symbolic tasks, in that vigilance tasks have traditionally utilized symbolic stimuli. It was expected that the traditional performance, as would increased mental load. The Hasher and Zacks' (1979) hypothesis of event frequency as an automatic process was examined, as subjects in this study were asked to estimate the frequency of the stimuli they saw during the vigilance phase of the experiment. The automaticity • hypothesis in question suggests that frequency estimation should not be affected by subjects' performance on a distractor task, assuming exposure to the stimuli to be tested is sufficient. The vigilance task served as a means of measuring subjects' attention to the to-be-tested stimuli. It was hypothesized here that, contrary to the automaticity hypothesis, vigilance performance would be positively related to frequency estimation performance. It was found that for verbal stimuli, males and females performed equally on both vigilance and frequency estimation tasks, and that performance was better for verbal stimuli than for symbolic stimuli on both tasks. Males outperformed females on vigilance for symbolic stimuli, providing some support for the concept that male vigilance superiority is related to the type of information presented. While the automaticity hypothesis does not explain why frequency estimation of symbolic stimuli is poorer than that of verbal stimuli, the lack of a clear relationship between attention and frequency estimation found in this study does support Hasher and Zacks' contention.