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Context-Gated Statistical Learning and Its Role in Visual-Saccadic Decisions

Journal of Experimental Psychology General
American Psychological Association
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1037/a0024916
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Adaptive behavior in a nonstationary world requires humans to learn and track the statistics of the environment. We examined the mechanisms of adaptation in a nonstationary environment in the context of visual-saccadic inhibition of return (IOR). IOR is adapted to the likelihood that return locations will be refixated in the near future. We examined 2 potential learning mechanisms underlying adaptation: (a) a local tracking or priming mechanism that facilitates behavior that is consistent with recent experience and (b) a mechanism that supports retrieval of knowledge of the environmental statistics based on the contextual features of the environment. Participants generated sequences of 2 saccadic eye movements in conditions where the probability that the 2nd saccade was directed back to the previously fixated location varied from low (.17) to high (.50). In some conditions, the contingency was signaled by a contextual cue (the shape of the movement cue). Adaptation occurred in the absence of contextual signals but was more pronounced in the presence of contextual cues. Adaptation even occurred when different contingencies were randomly intermixed, showing the parallel formation of multiple associations between context and statistics. These findings are accounted for by an evidence accumulation framework in which the resting baseline of decision alternatives is adjusted on a trial-by-trial basis. This baseline tracks the subjective prior beliefs about the behavioral relevance of the different alternatives and is updated on the basis of the history of recent events and the contextual features of the current environment.

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