Previous research has shown that people can implicitly learn repeated visual contexts and use this information when locating relevant items. For example, when people are presented with repeated spatial configurations of distractor items or distractor identities in visual search, they become faster to find target stimuli in these repeated contexts over time (Chun and Jiang, 1998; 1999). Given that people learn these repeated distractor configurations and identities, might they also implicitly encode semantic information about distractors, if this information is predictive of the target location? We investigated this question with a series of visual search experiments using real-world stimuli within a contextual cueing paradigm (Chun and Jiang, 1998). Specifically, we tested whether participants could learn, through experience, that the target images they are searching for are always located near specific categories of distractors, such as food items or animals. We also varied the spatial consistency of target locations, in order to rule out implicit learning of repeated target locations. Results suggest that participants implicitly learned the target-predictive categories of distractors and used this information during search, although these results failed to reach significance. This lack of significance may have been due the relative simplicity of the search task, however, and several new experiments are proposed to further investigate whether repeated category information can benefit search.
- Categorical contextual cueing in visual search
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by Stephen C. Walenchok