Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Pielstick, Norval L.||Vaughter, Reesa M.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Visual perception; Brain stimulation


Berlyne has postulated that collative stimuli - stimuli containing moderate levels of complexity, incongruity, novelty, ambiguity, among others - should elicit longer visual exploration than their less perplexing counterparts. Very little research has examined the power of ambiguity to elicit looking behavior. In addition, surprisingly few studies have investigated the effects of sex and age differences in visual exploration. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relative contributions of ambiguity, familiarization, age, and sex on visual exploration. Second graders, sixth graders, and college adults were allowed to expose sets of ambiguous and unambiguous slide figures as frequently and as long as they wished. Results from an analysis of variance indicated that ambiguous stimulus patterns did elicit longer looking behavior than their unambiguous counterparts across all three age levels. The results support to some extent Berlyne's hypothesis regarding the power of ambiguity to elicit longer looking behavior. However, because the theory fails to take into adequate account the influence of age and sex variables, the results also suggest that Berlyne's theory may be an oversimplified explanation of visual exploration or stimulus preference. Familiarization effects were found indicating Ss, in general, viewed stimuli longer during the first presentation than daring second presentation. This effect was discussed in terms of stimulus satiation or partial habituation. Second and sixth grade boys preferred more ambiguity than females at those age levels; whereas at the adult level females preferred significantly more ambiguity than males. This finding was discussed in terms of sociocultural and maturational factors. It was suggested that sex factors be carefully considered in future studies involving stimulus preference.


Includes bibliographical references.||Includes illustrations.


66 pages




Northern Illinois University

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