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Conci, Markus ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3403-0318 and Zellin, Martina (January 2021): Stimulus-driven updating of long-term context memories in visual search. In: Psychological Research [PDF, 1MB]

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Visual search for a target is faster when the spatial layout of nontarget items is repeatedly encountered, illustrating that learned contextual invariances can improve attentional selection (contextual cueing). This type of contextual learning is usually relatively efficient, but relocating the target to an unexpected location (within otherwise unchanged layouts) typically abolishes contextual cueing. Here, we explored whether bottom-up attentional guidance can mediate the efficient contextual adaptation after the change. Two experiments presented an initial learning phase, followed by a subsequent relocation phase that introduced target location changes. This location change was accompanied by transient attention-guiding signals that either up-modulated the changed target location (Experiment 1), or which provided an inhibitory tag to down-modulate the initial target location (Experiment 2). The results from these two experiments showed reliable contextual cueing both before and after the target location change. By contrast, an additional control experiment (Experiment 3) that did not present any attention-guiding signals together with the changed target showed no reliable cueing in the relocation phase, thus replicating previous findings. This pattern of results suggests that attentional guidance (by transient stimulus-driven facilitatory and inhibitory signals) enhances the flexibility of long-term contextual learning.

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