Statistical learning (SL), the extraction of regularities embedded in the environment, is often viewed as a fundamental and effortless process. However, whether spatial SL requires resources, or it can operate in parallel to other demands, is still not clear. To examine this issue, we tested spatial SL using the standard lab experiment under concurrent demands: high- and low-cognitive load (Experiment 1) and, spatial memory load (Experiment 2) during the familiarization phase. We found that any type of high-load demands during the familiarization abolished learning. Experiment 3 compared SL under spatial low-load and no-load. We found robust learning in the no-load condition that was dramatically reduced in the low-load condition. Finally, we compared a no-load condition with a very low-load, infrequent dot-probe condition that posed minimal demands while still requiring attention to the display (Experiment 4). The results showed, once again, that any concurrent task during the familiarization phase largely impaired spatial SL. Taken together, we conclude that spatial SL requires resources, a finding that challenges the view that the extraction of spatial regularities is automatic and implicit and suggests that this fundamental learning process is not as effortless as was typically assumed. We further discuss the practical and methodological implications of these findings.
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