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Cogn Psychol. 1998 Jun;36(1):28-71.

Contextual cueing: implicit learning and memory of visual context guides spatial attention.

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Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8205, USA.


Global context plays an important, but poorly understood, role in visual tasks. This study demonstrates that a robust memory for visual context exists to guide spatial attention. Global context was operationalized as the spatial layout of objects in visual search displays. Half of the configurations were repeated across blocks throughout the entire session, and targets appeared within consistent locations in these arrays. Targets appearing in learned configurations were detected more quickly. This newly discovered form of search facilitation is termed contextual cueing. Contextual cueing is driven by incidentally learned associations between spatial configurations (context) and target locations. This benefit was obtained despite chance performance for recognizing the configurations, suggesting that the memory for context was implicit. The results show how implicit learning and memory of visual context can guide spatial attention towards task-relevant aspects of a scene.

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