Meaning in learning: Contextual cueing relies on objects’ visual features and not on objects’ meaning

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People easily learn regularities embedded in the environment and utilize them to facilitate visual search. Using images of real-world objects, it has been recently shown that this learning, termed contextual cueing (CC), occurs even in complex, heterogeneous environments, but only when the same distractors are repeated at the same locations. Yet it is not clear what exactly is being learned under these conditions: the visual features of the objects or their meaning. In this study, Experiment 1 demonstrated that meaning is not necessary for this type of learning, as a similar pattern of results was found even when the objects’ meaning was largely removed. Experiments 2 and 3 showed that after learning meaningful objects, CC was not diminished by a manipulation that distorted the objects’ meaning but preserved most of their visual properties. By contrast, CC was eliminated when the learned objects were replaced with different category exemplars that preserved the objects’ meaning but altered their visual properties. Together, these data strongly suggest that the acquired context that facilitates real-world objects search relies primarily on the visual properties and the spatial locations of the objects, but not on their meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-67
Number of pages10
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Contextual cueing
  • Semantics
  • Visual learning
  • Visual search


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