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Is Task-Irrelevant Learning Really Task-Irrelevant?


In the present study we address the question of whether the learning of task-irrelevant stimuli found in the paradigm of task-irrelevant learning (TIPL) [1]-[9] is truly task irrelevant. To test the hypothesis that associations that are beneficial to task-performance may develop between the task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli, or the task-responses and the task-irrelevant stimuli, we designed a new procedure in which correlations between the presentation of task-irrelevant motion stimuli and the identity of task-targets or task-responses were manipulated. We found no evidence for associations developing between the learned (task-irrelevant) motion stimuli and the targets or responses to the letter identification task used during training. Furthermore, the conditions that had the greatest correlations between stimulus and response showed the least amount of TIPL. On the other hand, TIPL was found in conditions of greatest response uncertainty and with the greatest processing requirements for the task-relevant stimuli. This is in line with our previously published model that suggests that task-irrelevant stimuli benefit from the spill-over of learning signals that are released due to processing of task-relevant stimuli.

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