The Influence of Task-Irrelevant Spatial Regularities on Statistical Learning
23.31, Saturday, May 11, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Royal Ballroom 6-8
Alex Filipowicz1, Britt Anderson1,2, James Danckert1; 1University of Waterloo, 2Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience
Research into statistical and sequence learning has demonstrated that we are sensitive to the statistical properties of events and can learn to approximate the probability of their occurrences. Research has also demonstrated that the spatial properties of an event can influence our perception of its non-spatial features, even if the spatial features are not relevant to the task itself. The goal of the current research was to test whether task-irrelevant spatial features could influence our ability to learn the regularities associated with non-spatial events. Using a computerized version of the childrens game rock-paper-scissors (RPS), undergraduates were instructed in two separate experiments to win as often as possible against a computer that played varying RPS strategies. For each strategy, the computers plays were either presented with spatial regularity (i.e., rock would always appear on the left, paper in the middle, and scissors on the right) or without spatial regularity (i.e., the items were equally likely to appear in any of the three screen locations). Results showed that, although irrelevant to the task itself, spatial regularities had a moderate influence when learning to play against easy strategies (Experiment 1 and 2a), and a more pronounced influence when learning to play against harder strategies (Experiment 2b). When exposed to harder strategies, we also found that, in addition to improving learning, participants were also able to detect switches in the computers strategies more readily when spatial regularities were evident. Our results suggest that task-irrelevant spatial features can improve statistical learning, especially when the regularities of task relevant non-spatial features are difficult to learn.