What Individuals Experience During Visuo-Spatial Working Memory Task Performance: An Exploratory Phenomenological Study
In experimental cognitive psychology, objects of inquiry are typically operationalized with psychological tasks.
When interpreting results from such tasks, we focus primarily on behavioral measures such as reaction times and accuracy rather than experiences – i.e., phenomenology – associated with the task, and posit that the tasks elicit the desired cognitive phenomenon. Evaluating whether the tasks indeed elicit the desired phenomenon can be facilitated by understanding the experience during task performance. In this paper we explore the breadth of experiences that are elicited by and accompany task performance using in-depth phenomenological and qualitative methodology to gather subjective reports during the performance of a visuo-spatial change detection task. Thirty-one participants (18 females) were asked to remember either colors, orientations or positions of the presented stimuli and recall them after a short delay. Qualitative reports revealed rich experiential landscapes associated with the task-performance, suggesting a distinction between two broad classes of experience: phenomena at the front of consciousness and background feelings.
The former includes cognitive strategies and aspects of metacognition, whereas the latter include more difficult-to-detect aspects of experience that comprise the overall sense of experience (e.g., bodily feelings, emotional atmosphere, mood). We focus primarily on the background feelings, since strategies of task-performance to a large extent map onto previously identified cognitive processes and discuss the methodological implications of our findings.
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