Publication Date

Summer 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Sharon Mutter (Director), Steven Haggbloom, and Andy Mienaltowski

Degree Program

Department of Psychological Sciences

Degree Type

Master of Science


The feature positive effect (FPE) is a phenomenon in discrimination learning by which learning occurs more quickly when the presence (Feature positive; FP), rather than absence (Feature negative; FN) of a stimulus indicates a response should be made. Although the FPE has been extensively corroborated, a reversal, or feature negative effect (FNE), has been found when a target stimulus comes from a smaller set of stimuli (Fiedler, Eckert, & Poysiak, 1988). Age differences in FP and FN learning indicate that older adults perform more poorly than young adults on both FP and FN tasks, and are likely related to decline in working memory (WM) throughout adulthood (Mutter, Haggbloom, Plumlee, & Schrimer, 2006). This study used a successive discrimination task to compare young and older adults’ performance across FP and FN conditions under low (three of a set of four stimuli were presented) and high (three of a set of six stimuli were presented) information load (IL). Results from rule articulation, final incorrect and 12 consecutive trials correct did not support the hypotheses, but trend analyses provided partial support. Under low IL, YA demonstrated a FN response bias whereas OA showed no bias. Under high IL, YA and OA demonstrated equivalent performance whether the target stimulus was present or absent in the FP condition. In the FN condition OA performed better when the target stimulus was absent while YA showed no bias. These findings indicate FN task performance varies by age and this variation changes based on IL condition.


Cognitive Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior