The attentional boost effect facilitates visual category learning

Vanessa G. Lee, Yuehan Yvette Gan, Joyce L. Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing evidence has shown that summary visual statistics, such as the mean size or centroid of locations, can be perceived without focal attention. Here, we tested the role of attention in visual category learning – rapid learning of visual similarities among paintings of the same artist. Participants encoded paintings from two famous artists into memory while simultaneously monitoring a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream of colored squares, pressing the spacebar for target colors and making no response to distractor colors. Paintings encoded with the RSVP targets were better remembered than those encoded with the RSVP distractors, demonstrating an Attentional Boost Effect. Importantly, pairing one artist’s paintings with the RSVP targets led to better visual category learning – participants were more accurate at recognizing novel paintings from this artist, relative to another artist whose paintings were presented with the RSVP distractors. Thus, visual category learning is subjected to the same constraint of attention as exemplar memory, demonstrating common mechanisms for exemplar and category learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2432-2443
Number of pages12
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported in part by the Engdahl Research Fund. We thank Roger Remington, Caitlin Sisk, Chen Chen, Yi Ni Toh, and Linden Lee for their comments and suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Attention
  • The attentional boost effect
  • Visual category learning

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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