How is spatial context learning integrated over signal versus noise? A primacy effect in contextual cueing

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Over repeated exposure to particular visual search displays, subjects are able to implicitly extract regularities that then make search more efficient - a phenomenon known as contextual cueing. Here we explore how the learning involved in contextual cueing is formed, maintained, and updated over experience. During an initial training phase, a group of signal first subjects searched through a series of predictive displays (where distractor locations were perfectly correlated with the target location), followed with no overt break by a series of unpredictive displays (where repeated contexts were uncorrelated with target locations). A second noise first group of subjects encountered the unpredictive displays followed by the predictive displays. Despite the fact that both groups had the same overall exposure to signal and noise, only the signal first group demonstrated subsequent contextual cueing. This primacy effect indicates that initial experience can result in hypotheses about regularities in displays - or the lack thereof - which then become resistant to updating. The absence of regularities in early stages of training even blocked observers from learning predictive regularities later on.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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