Invariant spatial context can facilitate visual search. For instance, detection of a target is faster if it is presented within a repeatedly encountered, as compared to a novel, layout of nontargets, demonstrating a role of contextual learning for attentional guidance (‘contextual cueing’). Here, we investigated how context-based learning adapts to target location (and identity) changes. Three experiments were performed in which, in an initial learning phase, observers learned to associate a given context with a given target location. A subsequent test phase then introduced identity and/or location changes to the target. The results showed that contextual cueing could not compensate for target changes that were not ‘predictable’ (i.e. learnable). However, for predictable changes, contextual cueing remained effective even immediately after the change. These findings demonstrate that contextual cueing is adaptive to predictable target location changes. Under these conditions, learned contextual associations can be effectively ‘remapped’ to accommodate new task requirements.
Visual Search Target Location Recognition Test Proactive Interference Search Display
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This work was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Research Group (FOR 480) and CoTeSys Excellence Cluster (142) grants. We would like to thank Bernhard Hommel, Takatsune Kumada, and Stefan Pollmann for valuable comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.
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