Search in external and internal spaces

Hills, T. T., Todd, P. M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2008), Search in external and internal spaces.Psychological Science, 19, 676-682.

There is compelling molecular and behavioral evidence that goal-directed cognition is an evolutionary descendent of spatial-foraging behavior. Across animal species, similar dopaminergic processes modulate between exploratory and exploitative foraging behaviors and control attention. Consequently, we hypothesized that spatialforaging activity could prime attentional cognitive activity. We examined how searching in physical space influences subsequent search in abstract cognitive space by presenting participants with a spatial-foraging task followed by a repeated Scrabble task involving search for words that could be made from letter sets. Participants who searched through clumpier distributions in space behaved as if words were more densely clumped in the Scrabble task. This was not a function of arousal, but was consistent with predictions of optimal-foraging theory. Furthermore, individual differences in exploratory search were conserved across
the two types of tasks. Along with the biological evidence, our results support the idea that there are generalized cognitive search processes.

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