Large inter-individual and intra-individual variability in the effect of perceptual load

Hadas Marciano, Yaffa Yeshurun

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This study examined whether the recurrent difficulty to replicate results obtained with paradigms measuring distractor processing as a function of perceptual load is due to individual differences. We first reanalyzed, at the individual level, the data of eight previously reported experiments. These reanalyses revealed substantial inter-individual differences, with particularly low percentage of participants whose performance matched the load theory's predictions (i.e., larger distractor interference with low than high levels of load). Moreover, frequently the results were opposite to the theory's predictions±larger interference in the high than low load condition; and often a reversed compatibility effect emerged±better performance in the incompatible than neutral condition. Subsequently, seven observers participated in five identical experimental sessions. If the observed inter-individual differences are due to some stable trait or perceptual capacity, similar results should have emerged in all sessions of a given participant. However, all seven participants showed large between-sessions variations with similar patterns to those found between participants. These findings question the theoretical foundation implemented with these paradigms, as none of the theories suggested thus far can account for such inter- A nd intra-individual differences. Thus, these paradigms should be used with caution until further research will provide better understanding of what they actually measure.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0175060
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Marciano, Yeshurun. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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