Visual perceptual processing in maths and science achievement, in children aged 5-10 years old

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Visual perception is the way we organise and understand the input received from our senses. The visual input may be influenced by bottom-up processes which direct our attention towards more salient parts of the stimulus; for example, a flashing light. It's also influenced by top-down processes, where prior experiences and executive functions may lead to different interpretations of the same visual input. Generally, we are very good at visual perception, even when information is incomplete.

Global and local levels exist in environments which are hierarchical in nature. For example, a forest could be described as the global level and a single tree would be the local level. On a different scale, a whole tree could be the global level while individual leaves would be the local level. We acquire the gist when we attend to the global level, and acquire the details when we attend to the local level. Adults tend to demonstrate a global processing preference, as the global level is perceived more quickly than the local level. 

Converging evidence hints at a relationship between global / local processing and STEM, although this has not previously been directly explored. There is also evidence to suggest that disembedding (i.e. the ability to separate a target from its context, known as field independence) has a positive association with academic outcomes. The aim of this research is to examine associations between global/local processing and STEM, as well as field dependence/independence and STEM, taking account of variance in IQ, executive functions, and age. By examining patterns in behaviour as well as in eye tracking data, this study will further our understanding of the relationship between visual perceptual processing and STEM, in primary school age children.



Lab members



Morris, S., Farran, E.K., Dumontheil, I. (2021). Responses to Navon tasks differ across development and between tasks with differing attentional demands. Visual Cognition, 185, 17-28.

Morris, S., Farran, E.K., Dumontheil, I. (2019). Field Independence associates with mathematics and science performance in 5- to 10-year-olds after accounting for domain-general factors. Mind, Brain and Education.

Research groups and centres

Our research is supported by research groups and centres of excellence.

Cognition, Genes and Developmental Variability Lab