What Determines Visual Statistical Learning Performance? Insights From Information Theory

Cognitive Science 43 (12):e12803 (2019)
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Abstract

In order to extract the regularities underlying a continuous sensory input, the individual elements constituting the stream have to be encoded and their transitional probabilities (TPs) should be learned. This suggests that variance in statistical learning (SL) performance reflects efficiency in encoding representations as well as efficiency in detecting their statistical properties. These processes have been taken to be independent and temporally modular, where first, elements in the stream are encoded into internal representations, and then the co‐occurrences between them are computed and registered. Here, we entertain a novel hypothesis that one unifying construct—the rate of information in the sensory input—explains learning performance. This theoretical approach merges processes related to encoding of events and those related to learning their regularities into a single computational principle. We present data from two large‐scale experiments with over 800 participants tested in support for this hypothesis, showing that rate of information in a visual stream clearly predicts SL performance, and that similar rate of information values leads to similar SL performance. We discuss the implications for SL theory and its relation to regularity learning.

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