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Priming and stimulus–response learning in perceptual classification tasks

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Participants often respond more quickly and more accurately to a repeated stimulus compared to a non-repeated one, a phenomenon known as repetition priming. In semantic classification tasks priming appears to be largely attributable to the learning of stimulus–decision and stimulus–response associations, which allow participants to bypass many of the processes engaged during initial stimulus analysis. The current study tested whether stimulus–response learning plays a similarly dominant role in priming that occurs in perceptual classification tasks. Unfamiliar objects were used as stimuli to reduce the influence of semantic processes on priming and the task switched for all test trials to eliminate stimulus–decision learning. The results showed across-task priming as measured by reaction time facilitation and improved accuracy when the response remained the same during the encoding and test phases. When the response switched, similar levels of reaction time facilitation were observed, but priming as measured by accuracy was significantly reduced and no longer significant. These findings indicate that stimulus–response learning contributes to priming in perceptual classification tasks, but does not play a dominant role. Significant stimulus-level learning that is independent of the task and response also occurs and likely indexes facilitated perceptual processing of the objects.
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Keywords: Object-decision task; Perceptual classification; Repetition priming; Stimulus–response learning; Unfamiliar objects

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Division of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA 2: Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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