Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Contextual Cuing Based on Spatial Arrangement of Color

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Contextual Cuing Based on Spatial Arrangement of Color

Article excerpt

Previous studies have demonstrated that, in visual search, repetition of a target's "context" significantly improves search performance (contextual cuing; Chun & Jiang, 1998). Context in those studies was defined as either spatial configuration or featural combination. In the present work, we demonstrate that repeating the spatial arrangement of object colors (conjunction of spatial configuration and featural combination) also leads to contextual cuing (Experiment 1). Experiments 2 and 3 rule out the possibility that the contextual cuing we find in Experiment 1 is caused only by the spatial configuration of color patches. Experiment 4 rules out the possibility that it is caused only by featural combination. Experiments 5 and 6 demonstrate that color-arrangement-based contextual cuing is an unconscious process. Experiments 7 and 8 demonstrate that contextual cuing seems to be more effective on chromatic (hue) variation than on achromatic (luminance) variation. In sum, our results demonstrate that contextual cuing is not merely associated learning in separate domains; it is a more integrated process than has perhaps been appreciated.

Physical judgments and actions constantly require us to process an amount of visual information far beyond the capacity of our conscious cognitive faculties. For this processing, we rely largely on powerful unconscious faculties. In a series of recent studies, Chun and colleagues have demonstrated that, in visual search, repetition of stimuli's spatial configuration-target location association can significantly improve performance (Chun, 2000; Chun & Jiang, 1998,1999,2003; Jiang & Chun, 2001; Olson & Chun, 2001, 2002; see also Hoffmann & Sebald, 2005; Ogawa, Takeda, & Kumada, 2004; Peterson & Kramer, 2001 ; Tseng & Li, 2004). Subjects searched for a unique, prespecified target among distractors. Typically, the experiments were organized in 24 blocks of 24 trials each. In each block, half the trials were repetitions of trials from previous blocks, so that each of 12 "old" displays was repeated 24 times in the course of the whole experiment. The other half of the trials in each block presented new displays. Old displays were defined as preserving spatial configuration-the locations of all items-whereas other properties (e.g., orientation of the items) were not necessarily preserved. As block number increased, old displays increasingly outperformed new displays. This suggests that subjects gradually learn associations between spatial configuration and target location. Recognition of a repeated spatial configuration "guides" the subject to the target. What makes Chun et al.'s finding especially interesting is the unconscious nature of this contextual cuing: Subjects cannot consciously distinguish between old and new displays (Chun & Jiang, 1998)1, nor consciously remember the target location in old displays (Chun & Jiang, 2003).

By identifying the kinds of feature information that facilitate contextual cuing, we may learn something about the contents of the unconscious memory. In addition to target location cuing by spatial configuration (Chun & Jiang, 1998), Chun and Jiang (1999) also found target feature cuing by the repetition of distractor features' combinations (see also Endo & Takeda, 2004). Therefore, it seems that the underlying memory keeps track of both spatial configuration and surface feature information. An important question that has not been addressed is whether the underlying memory stores this information together, as an entity, or separately. Asking whether contextual cuing will be elicited by the conjunction of the two can test this. That is the question in the present study.

Since the repetition of either spatial configuration or surface-feature combination can elicit contextual cuing, it may seem only natural that their conjunction should also elicit cuing. But in fact, the conjunction constitutes an entirely different set of information. …

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