The effect of visual statistical learning in RSVP: Implicit learning or stream location artifact?

Amit Rawal, Philip Tseng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual statistical learning (VSL) occurs when participants are exposed to spatially or temporally ordered stimuli, and become increasingly sensitive to them without explicitly realizing the hidden regularities. In the temporal domain of VSL, participants are usually exposed to shape-triplets, followed by the use of familiarity judgments and recognition tasks to directly probe VSL. Other methods, such as the rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task, indirectly probe the learning of temporal sequences, and provide evidence of learning within the triplets. Despite the RSVP's success, however, previous implementations of the RSVP task have only pseudorandomized the triplets to form the test sequence, such that the task permits only two stream locations for a given target shape (belonging to a certain within-triplet position), out of six available locations. These fixed locations may result in confounded response time (RT) findings and potentially lead to an overestimation of a weak (or nonexistent) VSL effect. In this study, we conduct 4 experiments and show that the previously reported VSL effect in RSVP is eliminated when the RSVP stream is fully counterbalanced (Experiment 1), and resurfaces again when the RSVP stream returns to its original pseudorandomized design (Experiment 2). Importantly, in both, we observe a "stream location effect," where RT gradually becomes faster to reflect the hazard rate of target appearance, which may have been the factor driving previously reported VSL effects. Follow-up experiments show that results from Experiment 1 are not due to the absence of implicit learning (Experiment 3), although the stream location effect can occur without any learning, suggesting that it is something inherent to the RSVP task (Experiment 4). Together, these results identify an influential effect, the stream location effect, inherently present in the RSVP task, and show how misinforming the RSVP task can be, when not used with properly controlled parameters, and demand a reexamination of the effects found in previous studies which could have been the effect of detection stream locations, misconstrued as VSL. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Feb 4 2021


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