Attention toward contexts modulates context-specificity of behavior in human predictive learning: Evidence from the n-back task
According to the attentional theory of context processing (ATCP), learning becomes context specific when acquired under conditions that promote attention toward contextual stimuli regardless of whether attention deployment is guided by learning experience or by other factors unrelated to learning. In one experiment with humans, we investigated whether performance in a predictive learning task can be brought under contextual control by means of a secondary task that was unrelated to predictive learning, but supposed to modulate participants’ attention toward contexts. Initially, participants acquired cue-outcome relationships presented in contexts that were each composed of two elements from two dimensions. Acquisition training in the predictive learning task was combined with a one-back task that required participants to match across consecutive trials context elements belonging to one of the two dimensions. During a subsequent test, we observed that acquisition behavior in the predictive learning task was disrupted by changing the acquisition context along the dimension that was relevant for the one-back task, while there was no evidence for context specificity of predictive learning when the acquisition context was changed along the dimension that was irrelevant for the one-back task. Our results support the generality of the principles advocated by ATCP.
KeywordsHuman learning Acquisition Context Attention N-back task
This research was supported by Grant LA 564/22-2 from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) to Harald Lachnit.
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