Chen, S., Shi, Z., Müller, H. J., & Geyer, T. (2021). Multisensory visuo-tactile context learning enhances the guidance of unisensory visual search. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 9439. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88946-6
Does multisensory distractor-target context learning enhance visual search over and above unisensory learning? To address this, we had participants perform a visual search task under both uni- and multisensory conditions. Search arrays consisted of one Gabor target that differed from three homogeneous distractors in orientation; participants had to discriminate the target’s orientation. In the multisensory session, additional tactile (vibration-pattern) stimulation was delivered to two fingers of each hand, with the odd-one-out tactile target and the distractors co-located with the corresponding visual items in half the trials; the other half presented the visual array only. In both sessions, the visual target was embedded within identical (repeated) spatial arrangements of distractors in half of the trials. The results revealed faster response times to targets in repeated versus non-repeated arrays, evidencing ‘contextual cueing’. This effect was enhanced in the multisensory session—importantly, even when the visual arrays presented without concurrent tactile stimulation. Drift–diffusion modeling confirmed that contextual cueing increased the rate at which task-relevant information was accumulated, as well as decreasing the amount of evidence required for a response decision. Importantly, multisensory learning selectively enhanced the evidence-accumulation rate, expediting target detection even when the context memories were triggered by visual stimuli alone.