Oscillatory synchrony in the gamma band (30–120 Hz) has been involved in various cognitive functions including conscious perception and learning. Explicit memory encoding, in particular, relies on enhanced gamma oscillations. Does this finding extend to unconscious memory encoding? Can we dissociate gamma oscillations related to unconscious learning and to conscious perception? We investigate these issues in a magnetoencephalographic experiment using a modified version of the contextual cueing paradigm. In this visual search task, repeated presentation of search arrays triggers an unconscious spatial learning process that speeds reaction times but leaves conscious perception unaffected. In addition to a high-frequency perceptual gamma activity present throughout the experiment, we reveal the existence of a fronto-occipital network synchronized in the low gamma range specifically engaged in unconscious learning. This network shows up as soon as a display is searched for the second time and disappears as behavior gets affected. We suggest that oscillations in this network shape neural processing to build an efficient neural route for learned displays. Accordingly, in the last part of the experiment, evoked responses dissociate learned images at early latencies, suggesting that a sharpened representation is activated without resort on learning gamma oscillations, whereas perceptual gamma oscillations remain unaffected.

You do not currently have access to this content.