Attention Selectively Boosts Learning of Statistical Structure

AbstractWhile statistical learning (SL) has long been described as a learning mechanism that operates automatically across ages and modalities, there are a growing number of cases in which statistical regularities are not learned automatically, and in which attention seems to impact learning. We examined the role of attentional instruction on adults’ ability to learn two statistical patterns simultaneously. Results suggest that even without explicit instruction to attend to either pattern, participants automatically learn both patterns, and that explicit instruction to attend to one or both streams improves learning, but only for the attended stream(s). In addition, when attention is directed at only one stream, the learning benefit for that stream is coupled with a learning cost for the unattended stream. This adds to our understanding of the nuanced relationship between attention and SL, by suggesting that when more than one structure is present attention selectively improves SL of attended information in adults, but at the cost of unattended information.

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