Serial position effects in the identification of letters, digits, and symbols

Ilse Tydgat, Jonathan Grainger
Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 2009, 35 (2): 480-98
In 6 experiments, the authors investigated the form of serial position functions for identification of letters, digits, and symbols presented in strings. The results replicated findings obtained with the target search paradigm, showing an interaction between the effects of serial position and type of stimulus, with symbols generating a distinct serial position function compared with letters and digits. When the task was 2-alternative forced choice, this interaction was driven almost exclusively by performance at the first position in the string, with letters and digits showing much higher levels of accuracy than symbols at this position. A final-position advantage was reinstated in Experiment 6 by placing the two alternative responses below the target string. The end-position (first and last positions) advantage for letters and digits compared with symbol stimuli was further confirmed with the bar-probe technique (postcued partial report) in Experiments 5 and 6. Overall, the results further support the existence of a specialized mechanism designed to optimize processing of strings of letters and digits by modifying the size and shape of retinotopic character detectors' receptive fields.

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