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Zinchenko, Artyom; Conci, Markus; Müller, Hermann J.; Geyer, Thomas (2018): Predictive visual search: Role of environmental regularities in the learning of context cues. In: Attention Perception & Psychophysics, Vol. 80, No. 5: pp. 1096-1109
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Abstract

Repeatedly searching through invariant spatial arrangements in visual search displays leads to the buildup of memory about these displays (contextual-cueing effect). In the present study, we investigate (1) whether contextual cueing is influenced by global statistical properties of the task and, if so, (2) whether these properties increase the overall strength (asymptotic level) or the temporal development (speed) of learning. Experiment 1a served as baseline against which we tested the effects of increased or decreased proportions of repeated relative to nonrepeated displays (Experiments 1b and 1c, respectively), thus manipulating the global statistical properties of search environments. Importantly, probability variations were achieved by manipulating the number of nonrepeated (baseline) displays so as to equate the total number of repeated displays across experiments. In Experiment 1d, repeated and nonrepeated displays were presented in longer streaks of trials, thus establishing a stable environment of sequences of repeated displays. Our results showed that the buildup of contextual cueing was expedited in the statistically rich Experiments 1b and 1d, relative to the baseline Experiment 1a. Further, contextual cueing was entirely absent when repeated displays occurred in the minority of trials (Experiment 1c). Together, these findings suggest that contextual cueing is modulated by observers' assumptions about the reliability of search environments.