Science-- there's something for everyone

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Looking for something? Try a verbal cue.

Gary Lupyan of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Spivey from the University of California Merced discovered that verbal but not visual cues can improve someone's ability to find what she's looking for.

The cognitive psychologists put 80 volunteers through a series of tests. In each case, the participants were asked to identify whether they saw a particular letter when images were flashed on a screen at speeds that should have rendered them invisible. In one set of experiments, either a visual (picture of the letter to be found) or auditory (recorded letter name) cue was supplied prior to flashing either the letter or a random image. The volunteers were asked whether or not they had seen the letter in question. In some trials, the position of the flashed letter was randomly moved around the screen.

The volunteers had much greater success in correctly identifying whether a target letter was present or absent following an auditory cue. No such benefit was gained by having seen a visual representation of the letter to be sought.

I’m going to put this into practice the next time I lose something. Instead of silently blundering about, I’ll try announcing ‘keys!’ and see if that helps.