Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Contingency Blindness: Location-Identity Binding Mismatches Obscure Awareness of Spatial Contingencies and Produce Profound Interference in Visual Working Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Contingency Blindness: Location-Identity Binding Mismatches Obscure Awareness of Spatial Contingencies and Produce Profound Interference in Visual Working Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 23 February 2012

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract The purpose of the present study was to highlight the role of location-identity binding mismatches in obscuring explicit awareness of a strong contingency. In a spatialpriming procedure, we introduced a high likelihood of location-repeat trials. Experiments 1, 2a, and 2b demonstrated that participants' explicit awareness of this contingency was heavily influenced by the local match in location-identity bindings. In Experiment 3, we sought to determine why location-identity binding mismatches produce such low levels of contingency awareness. Our results suggest that binding mismatches can interfere substantially with visual-memory performance. We attribute the low levels of contingency awareness to participants' inability to remember the critical location-identity binding in the prime on a trial-to-trial basis. These results imply a close interplay between object files and visual working memory.

Keywords Consciousness . Repetition priming . Perception . Visual working memory

A great deal of research over the past two decades has focused on the construct of implicit learning. An often-used procedure for studying implicit learning exposes participants to a sequence of events that adhere to a systematic structure. This type of learning, referred to as statistical learning, has been demonstrated in a variety of tasks (Baker, Olson & Behrmann, 2004; Bartolomeo, Decaix & Siéroff, 2007; Chun & Jiang, 1998; Fiser & Aslin, 2002; Nissen & Bullemer, 1987; Reber, 1967; Turk-Browne, Jungé & Scholl, 2005). For example, in sequence-learning tasks, many studies have shown that people respond more quickly when targets follow a predictive sequence than when the sequence is random (Cohen, Ivry & Keele, 1990; Mayr, 1996; Nissen & Bullemer, 1987). Yet, despite this sensitivity to sequential structure, many participants remain unable to verbally describe the relation between target locations. That is, they learn the structure implicitly but not explicitly.

Although much has been learned from studies that examine the implicit learning of statistical structure, relatively little work has been directed at the question of how people explicitly learn and verbalize these statistical relations (but see Frensch et al., 2002; Haider & Frensch, 2005; Rünger&Frensch, 2008). Indeed, the utility of consciousness as a construct in cognitive psychology has long been a contentious issue (see Holender, 1986;Marcel, 1983), so onemight argue that there is little need to study explicit learning separately from implicit learning. However, a compelling counterargument is that, in a range of experimental contexts, consciously aware and unaware states lead to opposite patterns of behavior (Cheesman & Merikle, 1986; Eimer & Schlaghecken, 2002; Fiacconi & Milliken, 2011; Jiménez, Vaquero & Lupiáñez, 2006; Vaquero, Fiacconi & Milliken, 2010; seeMerikle, Smilek & Eastwood, 2001, for a review). The fact that behavior can depend qualitatively on whether one is aware or unaware of a source of information suggests that consciousness is not merely an epiphenomenon and that it merits study in its own right.With this issue inmind, the broad goal of the present study was to examine the processes that affect explicit awareness of strong statistical relationships inherent in sequences of stimuli presented visually.

Our investigation stems from earlier work (Fiacconi & Milliken, 2011; Vaquero et al., 2010) using a simple priming procedure. In these studies, we became interested in how reported awareness of a strong contingency mediates behavior in a simple performance task. The participants were required to passively observe a prime stimulus containing two different letter characters appearing in two of four demarcated locations (see Fig. 1 for a depiction of the various trial types). Following the prime, a probe display appeared, and participants were instructed to localize a target character as quickly as possible. …

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