Reference : Direct and Indirect Measures of Learning in Visual Search
Dissertations and theses : Doctoral thesis
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Theoretical & cognitive psychology
Direct and Indirect Measures of Learning in Visual Search
Reuter, Robert mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Educational Measurement and Applied Cognitive Science (EMACS) >]
Université libre de Bruxelles, ​Bruxelles, ​​Belgique
Doctorat en Sciences Psychologiques
Cleeremans, Axel mailto
[en] implicit learning ; contextual cueing ; visual search
[en] In this thesis, we will explore direct and indirect measures of learning in a visual search task commonly called contextual cueing. In the first part, we present a review of the scientific literature on contextual cueing, in order to give the readers of this thesis a better general idea of existing evidence and open questions within this relatively new research field. The aims of our own experimental studies presented in the succeeding chapters are the following ones: (1) to replicate and extend the findings described in the various papers by Marvin Chun and various colleagues on contextual cueing of visual attention; (2) to explore the nature of memory representations underlying the observed learning effects, especially whether learning is actually implicit and whether memory representations are distinctive, episodic and instance-based or rather distributed, continuous and graded; (3) to extend the study of contextual cueing to more realistic visual stimuli, in order to test its robustness across various situations and validate its adaptive value in ecologically sound conditions;
and (4) to investigate whether such knowledge about the association between visual contexts and “meaningful” locations can be (automatically) transferred to other tasks, namely a change detection task.

In a first series of four experiments, we tried to replicate the documented contextual cueing effect using a wide range of various direct measures of learning (tasks that are supposed to be related to explicit knowledge) and we systematically varied the distinctiveness of context configurations to study its effect on both direct and indirect measures of learning.

We also ran a series of neural network simulations (briefly described in the general discussion of this thesis), based on a very simple association-learning mechanism, that not only account for the observed contextual cueing effect, but also yield rather specific predictions about future experimental data: contextual cueing effects should also be observed when repetitions of context configurations are not perfect, i.e., the networks were able to react to slightly distorted versions of repeating contexts in a similar way than they did to completely identical contexts. Human participants, we conjectured, should therefore (if the simple connectionist model captures some relevant aspects of the contextual cueing effect) become faster at detecting targets surrounded by context configurations that are only partially identical from trial to trial compared to those trials where the context configurations were randomly generated. These predictions were tested in a second series of experiments using pseudo-repeated context configurations, where some distractor items were either displaced from trial to trial or their orientation changed, while conserving their global layout.

In a third series of experiments, we used more realistic images of natural landscapes as background contexts to establish the robustness of the contextual cueing effect as well as its ecological relevance claimed by Chun and colleagues. We furthermore added a second task to these experiments to study whether the acquired knowledge about the background-target location associations would (automatically) transfer to another visual search task, namely a change detection task. If participants have learned that certain locations of the repeated images are “important”, since they contain the target item to look for, then changes occurring at those specific locations should lead to less “change blindness” than changes occurring at other irrelevant locations. We used two different types of instructions to introduce this second task after the visual search task, where we either stressed the link between the two tasks, i.e., telling them that remembering the “important” locations for each image could be used to find the changes faster, or we simply told them to perform the second task without any reference to the first one.

We will close this thesis with a general discussion, combining findings based on our review of the existing research literature and findings based on our own experimental explorations of the contextual cueing effect. By this we will discuss the implications of our empirical studies for the scientific investigation of contextual cueing and implicit learning, in terms of theoretical, empirical and methodological issues.
Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique Belgique

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