Statistical learning generates implicit conjunctive predictions

AbstractThe cognitive system readily detects statistical relationships where the presence of an object predicts a specific outcome. What is less known is how the mind generates predictions when multiple objects predicting different outcomes are present simultaneously. Here we examine the rules with which predictions are made in the presence of two objects that are associated with two distinct outcomes. In three experiments, participants first implicitly learned that an object predicted a specific target location in a visual search task. When two objects predicting two different target locations were present simultaneously, participants were reliably faster to find the target when it appeared in the conjunctive location than in disjunctive locations. This was true even if participants were not consciously aware of the association between the objects and target locations. The results suggest that in the presence of multiple predictors, statistical learning generates implicit expectations about the outcomes in a conjunctive fashion.

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