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Zang, Xuelian; Shi, Zhuanghua; Müller, Hermann J.; Conci, Markus (2017): Contextual cueing in 3D visual search depends on representations in planar-, not depth-defined space. In: Journal of Vision, Vol. 17, No. 5: pp. 1-11
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Learning of spatial inter-item associations can speed up visual search in everyday life, an effect referred to as contextual cueing (Chun & Jiang, 1998). Whereas previous studies investigated contextual cueing primarily using 2D layouts, the current study examined how 3D depth influences contextual learning in visual search. In two experiments, the search items were presented evenly distributed across front and back planes in an initial training session. In the subsequent test session, the search items were either swapped between the front and back planes (Experiment 1) or between the left and right halves (Experiment 2) of the displays. The results showed that repeated spatial contexts were learned efficiently under 3D viewing conditions, facilitating search in the training sessions, in both experiments. Importantly, contextual cueing remained robust and virtually unaffected following the swap of depth planes in Experiment 1, but it was substantially reduced (to nonsignificant levels) following the left–right side swap in Experiment 2. This result pattern indicates that spatial, but not depth, inter-item variations limit effective contextual guidance. Restated, contextual cueing (even under 3D viewing conditions) is primarily based on 2D inter-item associations, while depth-defined spatial regularities are probably not encoded during contextual learning. Hence, changing the depth relations does not impact the cueing effect.