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Title: Attention and awareness in human learning and decision making
Author: Aczel, Balazs
ISNI:       0000 0004 2706 9083
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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This dissertation presents an investigation of the modifying role of attention and awareness in human learning and decision making. A series of experiments showed that performance in a range of tests of unconscious cognition can be better explained as resulting from conscious attention rather than from implicit processes. The first three experiments utilised a modification of the Serial Reaction Time task in order to measure the interaction of implicit and explicit learning processes. The results did not show evidence for an interaction, but did exhibit an effect of explicit knowledge of the underlying rules of the task. Subsequent studies examined the role of selective attention in learning. The investigation failed to provide evidence that learning inevitably results from the simple presentation of contingent stimuli over repeated trials. Instead, the learning effects appeared to be modulated by explicit attention to the association between stimuli. The following study with a novel test designed to measure the role of selective attention in prediction learning demonstrated that learning is not an obligatory consequence of simultaneous activation of representations of the associated stimuli. Rather, learning occurred only when attention was drawn explicitly to the association between the stimuli. Finally, the Deliberation without Attention Paradigm was tested in a replication study along with two novel versions of the task. Additional assessment of the conscious status of participants' judgments indicated that explicit deliberation and memory could best explain the effect and that the original test may not be a reliable measure of intuition. In summary, the data in these studies did not require explanation in terms of unconscious cognition. These results do not preclude the possibility that unconscious processes could occur in these or other designs. However, the present work emphasises the role conscious attention plays in human learning and decision making.
Supervisor: Aitken, Mike R. F. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: implicit learning ; selective attention ; intuition ; decision making