Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Contextual Cueing under Working Memory Load: Selective Interference of Visuospatial Load with Expression of Learning

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Contextual Cueing under Working Memory Load: Selective Interference of Visuospatial Load with Expression of Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract In a series of experiments, we investigated the dependence of contextual cueing on working memory resources. A visual search task with 50 % repeated displays was run in order to elicit the implicit learning of contextual cues. The search task was combined with a concurrent visual working memory task either during an initial learning phase or a later test phase. The visual working memory load was either spatial or nonspatial. Articulatory suppression was used to prevent verbalization. We found that nonspatial working memory load had no effect, independent of presentation in the learning or test phase. In contrast, visuospatial load diminished search facilitation in the test phase, but not during learning. We concluded that visuospatial working memory resources are needed for the expression of previously learned spatial contexts, whereas the learning of contextual cues does not depend on visuospatial working memory.

Keywords Contextual cueing · Working memory · Implicit learning

Repeated distractor configurations can lead to reduced search times even if no repetition is noticed by the ob- servers. This effect has been called contextual cueing-a form of implicit, incidental learning (Chun & Jiang, 1998). Recently, the question has been raised whether contextual cueing depends on working memory resources (Manginelli, Geringswald, & Pollmann, 2012; Travis, Mattingley, & Dux, 2013; Vickery, Sussman, & Jiang, 2010; see also Woodman & Chun, 2003).

What role could working memory play in contextual cueing? Contextual cueing has been observed over exten- sive time periods of up to one week (Chun & Jiang, 2003)- indicating that it relies on long-term memory representa- tions. Working memory may facilitate encoding into long- term memory. Ample evidence has revealed that the main- tenance (R. L. Greene, 1987; Ranganath, Cohen, & Brozinsky, 2005) and manipulation (Blumenfeld & Ranganath, 2006; Bower, 1970; Davachi & Wagner, 2002) of items in working memory contribute to long-term mem- ory formation. However, it is less clear whether working memory is needed for more implicit forms of encoding. In the case of contextual cueing, a visual search advantage for repeated displays was observed even though the partici- pants' attention was distracted from the repeated display items (Jiang & Leung, 2005). In the same study, however, the visual search advantage was eliminated when attention was distracted away from the repeated items after they had been learned. This was interpreted as indicating that atten- tion is necessary for the expression of learning, but not for learning itself. A related distinction was also observed in sequence learning (Frensch, Lin, & Büchner, 1998).

Jiang and Leung (2005) varied attentional but not work- ing memory demands. In their experiments, participants searched in displays that consisted of black and white items. They were instructed that the target was either black or white. In this way, participants were led to select either the black or the white items. It was found that repeated config- urations were learned even when they were not attended to (e.g., black items in the search for a white target). However, when the colors were reversed after an initial learning phase, contextual cueing was only observed when the repeated items had been attended to (e.g., repeated items in white when searching for a white target; see also Geringswald, Baumgartner, & Pollmann, 2012, for the dependence of con- textual cueing on foveal attention). This distinction-between the dependence of context learning and expression of learning on attention-might also be of importance for the role of working memory in contextual cueing.

Recently, several researchers have investigated the role of visual working memory in contextual cueing. One series of experiments yielded no evidence for working memory load effects on contextual cueing (Vickery et al., 2010). …

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