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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Climbing the Tree: Structured Hierarchical Representations in Visuomotor Maps


Humans are uniquely adept at extracting structure from the world around them. It is well known that people often form hierarchical task representations during learning, even when a task does not explicitly necessitate a hierarchical representation. Still, how individuals capitalize on this structure to facilitate behavior is an open question. In the present study, we address this question by carefully examining patterns of response time switch costs in a hierarchically structured visuomotor association learning task, to adjudicate between multiple models of behavior. We find evidence that participants do appear to navigate through a hierarchical representation of stimulus-response associations as they prepare responses, rather than maintaining a non-hierarchical, flat model or being primarily affected by changes in stimulus features. These results establish the existence of hierarchical mental representations even for static visuomotor mappings, and imply that such representations are internally navigated in an orderly manner during action selection.

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