Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Anthony J. Greene

Committee Members

Deborah E. Hannula, Christine L. Larson


Contextual Cueing Task, Eye Movement, Flexiblity, Leaning, Memory, Perceptual Priming


Visual searching can be facilitated without awareness when the target is repeatedly presented in an invariant context in tasks such as contextual cueing (Chun & Jiang 1998). A behavioral cost (increased reaction time) was observed when the target was moved to a new location but no such cost was observed when the target returned to the initial location. The lack of cost for return suggests two possible explanations: One is that the learning can update the initial learning to acquire both target locations, which suggests the implicit learning is flexible. The other is that the contextual cue leaning cannot update the initial learning but perseverates for the initial target location, which would not provide evidence the learning is flexible. To clarify the mechanism by which returns impose no behavioral cost, thirty-two participants were recruited for a contextual cueing task with both eye-movement and reaction time as dependent variables. All participants were required to identify the orientation of target in each array. After nine blocks (phase A1), the target in repeated array swapped with a distractor in the diagonal quadrant for another nine blocks (phase B), then the target returned to its initial location (phase A2). A behavioral cost of reaction time was observed after the initial swap in phase B. No significant contextual cueing effect was observed until the last epoch of phase B. However, no evidence of a behavioral cost was observed after the return in phase A2. Further analysis showed the behavioral cost in Phase B was found to be due in part to proactive interference from learning in Phase A1. The mechanism for immediate recovery after return in phase A2 was likewise perseveration of learning from Phase A1, which in most instances was sustained throughout all Phase B. The present study shows no evidence that participants could learn two targets locations which were subsequently presented in the same context in the contextual cueing task within the limited time available to them. Therefore, no evidence was found to support the flexibility of implicit learning in this task.