Incidental learning of probability information is differentially affected by the type of visual working memory representation

Amanda E. van Lamsweerde, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University.
Melissa R. Beck, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University.


In this study, we investigated whether the ability to learn probability information is affected by the type of representation held in visual working memory. Across 4 experiments, participants detected changes to displays of coloured shapes. While participants detected changes in 1 dimension (e.g., colour), a feature from a second, nonchanging dimension (e.g., shape) predicted which object was most likely to change. In Experiments 1 and 3, items could be grouped by similarity in the changing dimension across items (e.g., colours and shapes were repeated in the display), while in Experiments 2 and 4 items could not be grouped by similarity (all features were unique). Probability information from the predictive dimension was learned and used to increase performance, but only when all of the features within a display were unique (Experiments 2 and 4). When it was possible to group by feature similarity in the changing dimension (e.g., 2 blue objects appeared within an array), participants were unable to learn probability information and use it to improve performance (Experiments 1 and 3). The results suggest that probability information can be learned in a dimension that is not explicitly task-relevant, but only when the probability information is represented with the changing dimension in visual working memory.