Guidance of spatial attention during associative learning: Contributions of predictability and intention to learn

Noelia Do Carmo Blanco, John J.B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Expectations of an event can facilitate its neural processing. One of the ways we build expectations is through associative learning. Interestingly, the learning of contingencies between events can also occur without intention. Here, we study feature-based attention during associative learning, by asking how a learned association between a cue and a target outcome impacts the attention allocated to this outcome. Moreover, we investigate attention in learning depending on the intention to learn the association. We used an associative learning paradigm where we manipulated outcome predictability and intention to learn an association within streams of cue-target outcome visual stimuli, while stimulus characteristics and probability were held constant. In order to measure the event-related component N2pc, widely recognized to reflect allocation of spatial attention, every outcome was embedded among distractors. Importantly, the location of the target outcome could not be anticipated. We found that predictable target outcomes showed an increased spatial attention as indexed by a greater N2pc component. A later component, the P300, was sensitive to the intention to learn the association between the cue and the target outcome. The current study confirms the remarkable ability of the brain to extract and update predictive information, in accordance with a predictive-coding model of brain function. Associative learning can guide a visual search and shape covert attentional selection in our rich environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13077
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • N2pc
  • associative learning
  • incidental learning
  • predictive coding
  • selective attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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