Measuring nonvisual knowledge about object categories: The Semantic Vanderbilt Expertise Test

How much do people differ in their abilities to recognize objects, and what is the source of these differences? To address the first question, psychologists have created visual learning tests including the Cambridge Face Memory Test (Duchaine & Nakayama, 2006) and the Vanderbilt Expertise Test (VET; McGugin et al., 2012). The second question requires consideration of the influences of both innate potential and experience, but experience is difficult to measure. One solution is to measure the products of experience beyond perceptual knowledge—specifically, nonvisual semantic knowledge. For instance, the relation between semantic and perceptual knowledge can help clarify the nature of object recognition deficits in brain-damaged patients (Barton, Hanif, & Ashraf, Brain, 132, 3456–3466, 2009). We present a reliable measure of nonperceptual knowledge in a format applicable across categories. The Semantic Vanderbilt Expertise Test (SVET) measures knowledge of relevant category-specific nomenclature. We present SVETs for eight categories: cars, planes, Transformers, dinosaurs, shoes, birds, leaves, and mushrooms. The SVET demonstrated good reliability and domain-specific validity. We found partial support for the idea that the only source of domain-specific shared variance between the VET and SVET is experience with a category. We also demonstrated the utility of the SVET-Bird in experts. The SVET can facilitate the study of individual differences in visual recognition.