Research on contextual cueing has demonstrated that with simple arrays of letters and shapes, search for a target increases in efficiency as associations between a search target and its surrounding visual context are learned. We investigated whether the visual context afforded by repeated
exposure to real-world scenes can also guide attention when the relationship between the scene and a target position is arbitrary. Observers searched for and identified a target letter embedded in photographs of real-world scenes. Although search time within novel scenes was consistent across
trials, search time within repeated scenes decreased across repetitions. Unlike previous demonstrations of contextual cueing, however, memory for scene–target covariation was explicit. In subsequent memory tests, observers recognized repeated contexts more often than those that were
presented once and displayed superior recall of target position within the repeated scenes. In addition, repetition of inverted scenes, which made the scene more difficult to identify, produced a markedly reduced rate of learning, suggesting semantic information concerning object and scene
identity are used to guide attention.