Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Item to Decision Mapping in Rapid Response Learning

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Item to Decision Mapping in Rapid Response Learning

Article excerpt

Repeated classification of a visually presented stimulus rapidly leads to a form of response learning that bypasses the original evaluation in favor of a more efficient response mechanism. In two experiments, we examined the level of input and output representations that make up this form of learning. In Experiment 1, alterations in the finger mapping of the output response had no effect on the expression of response learning, demonstrating that a classification decision, not motor output, is associated with repeated items. In Experiments 2A and 2B, we tested whether response learning would transfer across different visual exemplars of a studied item. There was no evidence of transfer to different visual exemplars, even when these exemplars were judged to be highly visually similar. Taken together, these results indicate that response learning consists of the formation of an association between a specific visual representation and a classification decision.

A previous encounter with an item will often result in changes in a person's ability to identify, produce, or classify that item, referred to as repetition priming. Simple changes in presentation format or task demands between exposures can have significant effects on the magnitude of priming (Schacter, Dobbins, & Schnyer, 2004). The nature and type of these specificity effects may be critical in helping to identify the representational level, or levels, upon which behavioral facilitation rests. For example, if a repetition priming effect were severely disrupted by changing the nature of the manual response or by changing from a manual to a verbal response, this finding would suggest that the learning or facilitation occurred at a relatively late stage of processing. Despite the known sensitivity of priming to a variety of test manipulations (Burgund & Marsolek, 1997; Vaidya, Gabrieli, Verfaellie, Fleischman, & Askari, 1998), there have been relatively few attempts to delineate the mechanisms that are responsible for these effects. In a recent series of studies (Dobbins, Schnyer, Verfaellie, & Schacter, 2004; Schnyer, Dobbins, Nicholls, Schacter, & Verfaellie, 2006), we have begun to explore the cognitive and neural mechanisms resulting in one type of priming specificity that suggests that the rapid learning of decision outcomes or responses may be a significant part of typically observed priming gains. We have referred to this phenomenon as response learning.

Previous Examinations of Response Learning

In previous studies, we have examined response learning by utilizing a semantic classification task in which the framing of the decision cue was changed between initial exposure (study) and subsequent primed presentations (test). During a study period, subjects were asked to indicate whether visually presented common objects were "bigger than a shoebox." Items were presented during study either once or three times. At test, the subjects continued making size decisions to objects repeated from study and to new objects. The test phase was conducted either with the same decision cue as that presented during study ("bigger than a shoebox") or with an inversion of the decision cue ("smaller than a shoebox"). The effect of repetition on items previously presented once or three times was compared between the two decision cue conditions. We postulated that if the facilitation associated with repetition reflected small modifications in object identification and/or knowledge representations within the same object-processing stream as that engaged when the items were first presented, inversion of the decision cue would cause little disruption in priming. That is, if priming were the result of learning or tuning in these representations (Wiggs & Martin, 1998), its expression should not be particularly sensitive to the change in decision cue. However, if the results demonstrated that priming was significantly disrupted or eliminated by a change in the decision cue, this would suggest that priming reflected the fact that the subjects rapidly associated their prior responses or decisions with each item and, thereby, bypassed many of the more deliberative processes engaged when an item was first presented. …

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