Domain-Specific Experience Determines Individual Differences in Holistic Processing

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Holistic processing refers to the processing of objects as wholes rather than in a piecemeal, part-based fashion. Despite a suggested link between expertise and holistic processing, the role of experience in determining holistic processing of both faces and objects has been questioned. Here, we combine an individual differences approach with an experimental training study and parametrically manipulate experience with novel objects to examine the determinants of holistic processing. We also measure object-recognition ability. Our results show that although domain-general visual ability is a predictor of the ability to match object parts, it is the amount of experience people have individuating objects of a category that determines the extent to which they process new objects of this category in a holistic manner. This work highlights the benefits of dissociating the influences of domain-general ability and domain-specific experience, typically confounded in measures of performance or “expertise.” Our findings are consistent with those in recent work with faces showing that variability specific to experience is a better predictor of domain-specific effects than is variability in performance. We argue that individual differences in holistic processing arise from domain-specific experience and that these effects are related to similar effects of experience on other measures of selective attention.

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