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01-03-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2015

Psychological Research 2/2015

How does implicit learning of search regularities alter the manner in which you search?

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2015
Gerald P. McDonnell, Mark Mills, Leslie McCuller, Michael D. Dodd


Individuals are highly sensitive to statistical regularities in their visual environment, even when these patterns do not reach conscious awareness. Here, we examine whether oculomotor behavior is systematically altered when distractor/target configurations rarely repeat, but target location on an initial trial predicts the location of a target on the subsequent trial. The purpose of the current study was to explore whether this temporal-spatial contextual cueing in a conjunction search task influences both reaction time to the target and participant’s search strategy. Participants searched for a target through a gaze-contingent window in a display consisting of a large number of distractors, providing a target-present/absent response. Participants were faster to respond to the target on the predicted trial relative to the predictor trial in an implicit contextual cueing task but were no more likely to fixate first to the target quadrant on the predicted trial (Experiment 1). Furthermore, implicit learning was interrupted when instructing participants to vary their searching strategy across trials to eliminate visual scan similarity (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, when participants were explicitly informed that a pattern was present at the start of the experiment, explicit learning was observed in both reaction time and eye movements. The present experiments provide evidence that implicit learning of sequential regularities regarding target locations is not based on learning more efficient scan paths, but is due to some other mechanism.

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