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Shaping relations: The effects of visuospatial priming on structured thought


While relational reasoning has been described as a process at the heart of human cognition, the degree to which relations may be primed remains an open debate. The current project, entitled Shaping Relations: The Effects of Visuospatial Priming on Structured Thought by Katherine Anne Livins wrestles with this debate as part of a PhD dissertation submitted to the University of California Merced in the year 2015 under the oversight of Dr. David C. Noelle.

The project focuses on three questions in hopes of illuminating the debate: i) is relational priming possible, ii) to what extent is relational priming possible, and, if relational priming is possible, iii) what are the mechanisms by which it functions? The project proceeds to evaluate the current literature, and to argue that relational priming seems possible in the broad sense, but that further research must be completed in order determine its extent and mechanisms. Visuospatial priming is argued to be potentially useful for determining the answers to those questions.

The dissertation presents this analysis based on past findings and then describes the results of a series of four new experiments. The first two experiments establish that visuospatial priming can have an effect on relational reasoning; the third shows that attention might be particularly important for those effects; and the fourth confirms that this is the case. It is ultimately argued that relational reasoning is possible, and that it can occur reasonably automatically, but that its efficacy may rely on the prime’s ability to capture and direct attention.

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