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The development of perceptual averaging: learning what to do, not just how to do it

Jones, P. R. ORCID: 0000-0001-7672-8397 & Dekker, T. M. (2018). The development of perceptual averaging: learning what to do, not just how to do it. Developmental Science, 21(3), e12584. doi: 10.1111/desc.12584


The mature visual system condenses complex scenes into simple summary statistics (e.g., average size, location, orientation, etc.). However, children, often perform poorly on perceptual averaging tasks. Children's difficulties are typically thought to represent the suboptimal implementation of an adult-like strategy. This paper examines another possibility: that children actually make decisions in a qualitatively different way to adults (optimal implementation of a non-ideal strategy).

Ninety children (6-7, 8-9, 10-11 years) and 30 adults were asked to locate the middle of randomly generated dot-clouds. Nine plausible decision strategies were formulated, and each was fitted to observers' trial-by-trial response data (Reverse Correlation). When the number of visual elements was low (N < 6), children used a qualitatively different decision strategy from adults: appearing to "join up the dots" and locate the gravitational center of the enclosing shape. Given denser displays, both children and adults used an ideal strategy of arithmetically averaging individual points. Accounting for this difference in decision strategy explained 29% of children's lower precision. These findings suggest that children are not simply suboptimal at performing adult-like computations, but may at times use sensible, but qualitatively different strategies to make perceptual judgments. Learning which strategy is best in which circumstance might be an important driving factor of perceptual development.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: ©2017 The Authors. Developmental Science Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Optometry & Visual Sciences
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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