The visual environment contains predictable information - “statistical regularities” - that can be used to aid perception and attentional allocation. Here we investigate the role of statistical learning in facilitating search tasks that resemble medical-image perception. Using faux X-ray images, we employed two tasks that mimicked two problems in medical-image perception: detecting a target signal that is poorly segmented from the background; and discriminating a candidate anomaly from benign signals. In the first, participants searched a heavily camouflaged target embedded in cloud-like noise. In the second, the noise opacity was reduced, but the target appeared among visually similar distractors. We tested the hypothesis that learning may be task-specific. To this end, we introduced statistical regularities by presenting the target disproportionately more frequently in one region of the space. This manipulation successfully induced incidental learning of the target’s location probability, producing faster search when the target appeared in the high-probability region. The learned attentional preference persisted through a testing phase in which the target’s location was random. Supporting the task-specificity hypothesis, when the task changed between training and testing, the learned priority did not transfer. Eye tracking showed fewer, but longer, fixations in the detection than in the discrimination task. The observation of task-specificity of statistical learning has implications for theories of spatial attention and sheds light on the design of effective training tasks.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a seed grant from OFAA-Social Sciences, University of Minnesota to YVJ and a graduate summer research fellowship from the Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota to LZS.
© 2018, The Author(s).
- Attention training
- Attentional priority map
- Location probability learning
- Spatial attention
- Visual search