Implicit guidance of attention in contextual cueing: Neuropsychological and developmental evidence

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When searching for an object in a familiar environment, we may automatically orient to locations where this object was often placed previously. Contextual cueing refers to the guidance of attention by repeated search context. As an implicit mechanism with high capacity, contextual cueing may be important for people whose cognitive function is compromised, immature, or in decline. Here we review and synthesize the last two decades of research on contextual cueing, focusing on neuropsychological and developmental evidence. Contextual cueing is largely preserved in young children, older adults, and individuals with autism spectrum disorders or mild intellectual impairment. Some, though not all, studies find a deficit in contextual cueing in amnesic patients, patients with basal ganglia damage, children with ADHD, and individuals with psychiatric disorders. Although the medial temporal lobe, the basal ganglia, and the posterior parietal cortex are implicated in contextual cueing, definitive evidence for their necessity is lacking. These findings suggest that contextual cueing is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism that is exceptionally robust to damages to single brain sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-125
Number of pages11
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Attention
  • Basal ganglia
  • Cognitive development
  • Contextual cueing
  • Implicit learning
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Memory


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