Repeatedly presenting a target within a stable search array facilitates visual search, an effect termed contextual cueing. Previous solo-performance studies have shown that successful acquisition of contextual memories requires explicit allocation of attentional resources to the task-relevant repeated contexts. By contrast, repeated but task-irrelevant contexts could not be learned when presented together with repeated task-relevant contexts due to a blocking effect. Here we investigated if such blocking of context learning could be diminished in a social context, when the task-irrelevant context is task-relevant for a co-actor in a joint action search mode. We adopted the contextual cueing paradigm and extended this to the co-active search mode. Participants learned a context-cued subset of the search displays (color-defined) in the training phase, and their search performance was tested in the transfer phase, where previously irrelevant and relevant subsets were swapped. The experiments were conducted either in a solo search mode (Experiments 1 and 3) or in a co-active search mode (Experiment 2). Consistent with the classical contextual cueing studies, contextual cueing was observed in the training phase of all three experiments. Importantly, however, in the “swapped” test session, a significant contextual cueing effect was manifested only in the co-active search mode, not in the solo search mode. Our findings suggest that social context may widen the scope of attention, thus facilitating the acquisition of task-irrelevant contexts.
The paper is published in AP&P:
Zang, X., Zinchenko, A., Wu, J., Zhu, X., Fang, F., & Shi, Z. (2022). Contextual cueing in co-active visual search: Joint action allows acquisition of task-irrelevant context. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13414-022-02470-x