Alternation blindness in the representation of binary sequences

Ru Qi Yu, Daniel Osherson, Jiaying Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Binary information is prevalent in the environment and contains 2 distinct outcomes. Binary sequences consist of a mixture of alternation and repetition. Understanding how people perceive such sequences would contribute to a general theory of information processing. In this study, we examined how people process alternation and repetition in binary sequences. Across 4 paradigms involving estimation, working memory, change detection, and visual search, we found that the number of alternations is underestimated compared with repetitions (Experiment 1). Moreover, recall for binary sequences deteriorates as the sequence alternates more (Experiment 2). Changes in bits are also harder to detect as the sequence alternates more (Experiment 3). Finally, visual targets superimposed on bits of a binary sequence take longer to process as alternation increases (Experiment 4). Overall, our results indicate that compared with repetition, alternation in a binary sequence is less salient in the sense of requiring more attention for successful encoding. The current study thus reveals the cognitive constraints in the representation of alternation and provides a new explanation for the overalternation bias in randomness perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-502
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Alternation bias
  • Attention
  • Numerosity perception
  • Randomness perception
  • Working memory


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