Date of Award

Spring 5-1-1973

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physician Assistant Studies


One area of research that has received a great deal of empirical and theoretical attention is preference for complexity. Two major conclusions may be drawn from a survey of the relevant literature in this area. First, there is a greater preference for the intermediate ranges of complexity than for the extreme levels, and secondly, preference for complexity is a function of the interaction of both stimulus and subject variables. The role of stimulus variables in preference for complexity has been repeatedly studied. This is also true of the subject variable "experience," which is usually defined in terms of the subject's age or amount of exposure to the stimuli. The present study attempted to define another subject variable as yet unreported in the literature. This variable was labeled a "knowledge" variable and was defined as the subject's cognitive information with regard to the stimuli to be evaluated. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of, what has been defined as, knowledge and experience on preference for complexity. The subjects, 148 college students, were -randomly assigned to one of four groups and initial preference ratings for complexity were taken in each group. The stimuli rated were green and white random matrices or "checkerboards" varying in informational content. The complexity of these stimuli was defined by the number of bits of information each contained, and six levels of complexity were used. These stimuli were presented to the subjects in both the pretest and the posttest phases of

the experiment in a paired comparison paradigm. From the obtained preference ratings, a score representing the total amount of information preferred (TIP) was computed for each subject and used as the basic data unit in the statistical analyses. The experience variable was administered using the repeated visual presentation of the individual matrices. Presentation of the knowledge variable consisted of a lecture in which "subsuming concepts" regarding the stimuli were given. A combination of the two subject variables was also given to a third group of subjects. The results indicate that any group receiving the knowledge variable showed significant increases in preference for complexity, while no significant increases were noted for the experience variable. The combination of the knowledge and experience variables produced significant increases in preference for complexity, but these increases were not significantly greater than those produced by the knowledge variable alone. It was concluded that the knowledge phase, in which "subsuming concepts" or "advance organizers" were given to the subjects rather than forcing them to develop their own cognitive organization as was done in the experience phase, was highly effective in increasing preference for complexity. The failure of the combination of the two subject variables to produce increases in preference significantly greater than the knowledge variable alone was attributed to the presence of a "ceiling effect" in this specific group. The value of individual differences in assessing preference was • noted and a brief description of the present data when sorted according to individual function is given. Some implications of the present study were discussed and the need for future research directed toward the replication of the specific findings along with the establishment of parameters for subject variables was indicated.