Contextual cueing in co-active visual search: shared attention allows acquisition of task-irrelevant context

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  1. 1Center for Cognition and Brain Disorders, Affiliated Hospital of Hangzhou Normal University, 310015, China
  2. 2Department Psychologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany
  3. 3School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences and Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China


Published 02 Mar. 2021 | License Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication


Repeatedly presenting a target within a stable search array facilitates visual search, an effect termed “contextual cueing”. Previous solo-performance studies have shown that contextual learning requires explicit allocation of attentional resources to the task-relevant repeated context, while repeated, but task-irrelevant subsets of items show no contextual benefits. Lack of attention to repeated, but task-irrelevant contexts may weaken contextual cueing. In a co-active environment, however, people often share some attention to both self-relevant and co-actor relevant context. Whether participants can acquire co-actor relevant, but self-irrelevant repeated contexts remains unsolved. Thus, the present study adopted the contextual cueing paradigm under the co-active social context. Participants learned a cued subset of the search display (either black or white) in the learning phase, and tested the search performance for the irrelevant subsets in the transfer phase. The experiment was conducted either in a solo condition (Experiments 1 and 3) or in a joint-action condition(Experiment 2). Contextual cueing was observed in all three experiments in the training phase. However, contextual learning of the irrelevant context in the transfer session was only manifested in the joint-action Experiment 2. Our findings suggest that shared focus of attention between partners enables representations of a coactor's task prompting contextual learning of otherwise irrelevant context. We conclude that the social interaction may widen the scope of attention, thus facilitating the acquisition of task-irrelevant contexts.


| Co-active visual search | contextual cueing | joint task | task-irrelevant context | contextual learning | memory |


  • NSFC 32071042
  • NSFC 31600876
  • DFG grants SH 166/6-2


Zang X, Zinchenko A, Wu J, Zhu X, Fang F, Shi Z (2021) Contextual cueing in co-active visual search: shared attention allows acquisition of task-irrelevant context. G-Node.