Human speech possesses a rich hierarchical structure that allows for meaning to be altered by words spaced far apart in time. Conversely, the sequential structure of nonhuman communication is thought to follow non-hierarchical Markovian dynamics operating over only short distances. Here, we show that human speech and birdsong share a similar sequential structure indicative of both hierarchical and Markovian organization. We analyze the sequential dynamics of song from multiple songbird species and speech from multiple languages by modeling the information content of signals as a function of the sequential distance between vocal elements. Across short sequence-distances, an exponential decay dominates the information in speech and birdsong, consistent with underlying Markovian processes. At longer sequence-distances, the decay in information follows a power law, consistent with underlying hierarchical processes. Thus, the sequential organization of acoustic elements in two learned vocal communication signals (speech and birdsong) shows functionally equivalent dynamics, governed by similar processes.
Once material has been learned to a criterion of one perfect trial, further study within the same session constitutes overlearning. Although overlearning is a popular learning strategy, its effect on long-term retention is unclear. In two experiments presented here, 218 college students learned geography facts (Experiment 1) or word definitions (Experiment 2). The degree of learning was manipulated and measured via multiple test-with-feedback trials, and participants returned for a final cued recall test between one and nine weeks later. The overlearners recalled far more than the low learners at the one-week test, but this difference decreased dramatically thereafter. These data suggest that overlearning (and its concomitant demand for additional study time) is an inefficient strategy for learning material for meaningfully long periods of time.
To find important objects, we must focus on our goals, ignore distractions, and take our changing environment into account. This is formalized in models of visual search whereby goal-driven, stimulus-driven, and history-driven factors are integrated into a priority map that guides attention. Stimulus history robustly influences where attention is allocated even when the physical stimulus is the same: when a salient distractor is repeated over time, it captures attention less effectively. A key open question is how we come to ignore salient distractors when they are repeated. Goal-driven accounts propose that we use an active, expectation-driven mechanism to attenuate the distractor signal (e.g., predictive coding), whereas stimulus-driven accounts propose that the distractor signal is attenuated because of passive changes to neural activity and inter-item competition (e.g., adaptation). To test these competing accounts, we measured item-specific fMRI responses in human visual cortex during a visual search task where trial history was manipulated (colors unpredictably switched or were repeated). Consistent with a stimulus-driven account of history-based distractor suppression, we found that repeated singleton distractors were suppressed starting in V1, and distractor suppression did not increase in later visual areas. In contrast, we observed signatures of goal-driven target enhancement that were absent in V1, increased across visual areas, and were not modulated by stimulus history. Our data suggest that stimulus history does not alter goal-driven expectations, but rather modulates canonically stimulus-driven sensory responses to contribute to a temporally integrated representation of priority.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Visual search refers to our ability to find what we are looking for in a cluttered visual world (e.g., finding your keys). To perform visual search, we must integrate information about our goals (e.g., "find the red keychain"), the environment (e.g., salient items capture your attention), and changes to the environment (i.e., stimulus history). Although stimulus history impacts behavior, the neural mechanisms that mediate history-driven effects remain debated. Here, we leveraged fMRI and multivariate analysis techniques to measure history-driven changes to the neural representation of items during visual search. We found that stimulus history influenced the representation of a salient "pop-out" distractor starting in V1, suggesting that stimulus history operates via modulations of early sensory processing rather than goal-driven expectations.