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Melina Kunar, Jeremy Wolfe; No target no effect: Target absent trials in contextual cueing. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):1180. doi: 10.1167/9.8.1180.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
In contextual cueing, reaction times (RTs) to find a target are lower when a display has been repeated compared to when a display is new. Recent work has suggested that this benefit occurs as participants learn the associations between the target and its surrounding distractors. We ask what happens to contextual cueing when there is no target item. Can participants learn an association between a configuration of distractors and the absence of a target? If it is the target-distractor associations that are important then when there is no target (and hence these associations cannot be formed) no contextual cueing effect should emerge. Experiment 1 replicated the standard contextual cueing effect with target-present displays, but found no effect of context on target-absent displays. Suppose that a repeated configuration indicates that the target is present at a specific location 50% of the time. If not, a distractor is present at that location and the target is absent from the display. In this case no contextual cueing is found on either present or absent trials (Experiments 2 & 3). It is the intermittent presence of the distractor item at the target position that blocks contextual cueing (Experiment 4). Once a context has been learned, however, a contextual cueing effect can be observed on trials when the target is absent (Experiment 5). These data suggest that it is the relationship of targets to the configuration of distractors that is critical in the establishment of contextual cueing.
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