Implicit temporal learning occurs through meaningful action-perception coupling
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Description: In a psychophysical experiment based on the arcade game Whac-A-Mole (WAM), in which targets (moles) had to be hit using a computer cursor, Salet et al. (2021) showed that temporal regularities built into the WAM experiment (here: one of three targets appeared every 3 s) can be learned implicitly and improve performance expressed by reaction time (RT) and hit rate. That is, although their participants were completely unaware of the timing aspect of the experiment, they unintentionally utilized temporal information to guide behavior. In this study, the aim is to assess the action-perception coupling of implicit temporal learning. That is, whether the implicit temporal adaptation observed in Salet et al. (2021) results from learning where the regular stimulus is presented at regular onsets (perception); or learning what motor action to perform at regular onsets. Salet et al. (2021)'s study does not allow to distinguish between these two possibilities as the regularity’s spatial location was directly coupled to a unique motor action: Their participants could have learned to do three things at regular onsets: (1) where to spatially orient their attention; (2) what motor action to prepare in anticipation of regular’s onsets; or (3) both. With an extension of the WAM-design of Salet et al. (2021) we aim to distinguish between these three possible learning possibilities. To do so, we manipulate whether the regular feature is linked to a unique location or a unique motor action. We modify the WAM-design such that targets vary in location (left, top, right) and color (orange, green, purple). Participants place their index, middle, and ring finger on three buttons, each button corresponding to one of the three colors. In one half of the experiment, the temporal regularity concerns the feature 'location' (regular location condition; as in Salet et al., 2021). For example, every 3 s a target appears on the left, with an unpredictable color. This means that the motor action (button press with one of the three fingers) is not associated with this regularity. In the other half of the experiment, the temporal regularity concerns the feature 'color' thereby linking motor action with the regularity (regular action condition): For example, every 3 s a green target occurs, while the location of this target was randomized. Because the correct response (i.e. specific finger press) is defined by this color, a repetitive and meaningful motor action occurs only if the regular feature is 'color': Every three seconds a green target prompts a response with the same finger. Possible outcomes of this experiment, based on the three possible learning outcomes outlined above, are: (1) Implicit learning occurs in the regular location and action condition: Participants can both implicitly learn at regular onsets where to spatially orient their attention and what motor action to perform. (2) Implicit learning occurs in the regular location but not in the action condition: Participants only learn where to spatially orient their attention at regular onsets, but not what motor action to perform. (3) Implicit learning occurs in the regular action but not location condition: Participants only learn what motor action to perform at regular onsets, but not where to spatially orient their attention. (4) Implicit learning occurs neither in the regular location nor in the action condition: Participants do not pick up on any temporal regularity in this paradigm, which might suggest that a correspondence between action and location are a prerequisite for learning temporal regularities. Salet JM, Kruijne W, Van Rijn H (2021). Implicit learning of temporal behavior in complex dynamic environments. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 28:1270–1280. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-020-01873-x
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