Temperamental variation in learned irrelevance in humans
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Submission date: 2015-04-14
Acceptance date: 2015-07-18
Online publication date: 2015-07-07
Publication date: 2015-06-29
Current Issues in Personality Psychology 2015;3(2):94–104
Learned irrelevance (LIRR) represents one of the mechanisms of attentional set-shifting and refers to the inability to attend to, or to learn about, any aspect of a stimulus previously experienced as irrelevant. Although it has been extensively studied in the context of clinical populations, not much is known about LIRR effects in relation to normal variation in individual differences. The present study was designed to assess how temperamental factors may modulate LIRR.

Participants and procedures
Sixty-eight healthy volunteers performed a visual discrimination learning task modelled after Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. To test the susceptibility to learned irrelevance, participants were expected to shift their attention either to a dimension that prior to the extra-dimensional shift was completely irrelevant, or to a dimension that was previously partly correlated with reinforcement. Temperamental traits were assessed using the Formal Characteristics of Behaviour-Temperament Inventory (Zawadzki & Strelau, 1997). Intelligence level was stratified according to Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices (Raven, Raven, & Court, 2003).

Low level of Briskness and high level of Perseverance were related to enhanced susceptibility to LIRR. High levels of Activity and Emotional Reactivity were related to the poorer performance on the extra-dimensional set-shifting. No effects of other temperament characteristics or intelligence on LIRR were observed.

The results confirm a strong variation in LIRR related to individual differences in temperament, which appears to be unrelated to DA function. Our results highlight the importance of considering individual differences in studies on cognitive control.