It is well established that attention can be sharpened through the process of statistical learning (e.g., visual search becomes faster when targets appear at high-relative-to-low probability locations). Although this process of statistically learned attentional enhancement differs behaviorally from the well-studied top–down and bottom–up forms of attention, relatively little work has been done to characterize the electrophysiological correlates of statistically learned attentional enhancement. It thus remains unclear whether statistically learned enhancement recruits any of the same cognitive mechanisms as top–down or bottom–up attention. In the current study, EEG data were collected while participants searched for an ambiguous unique shape in a visual array (the additional singleton task). Unbeknownst to the participants, targets appeared more frequently in one location in space (probability cuing). Encephalographic data were then analyzed in two phases: an anticipatory phase and a reactive phase. In the anticipatory phase preceding search stimuli onset, alpha lateralization as well as the Anterior Directing Attention Negativity and Late Directing Attention Positivity components—signs of preparatory attention known to characterize top–down enhancement—were tested. In the reactive phase, the N2pc component—a well-studied marker of target processing—was examined following stimuli onset. Our results showed that statistically learned attentional enhancement is not characterized by any of the well-known anticipatory markers of top–down attention; yet targets at high probability locations did reliably evoke larger N2pc amplitudes, a finding that is associated with bottom–up attention and saliency. Overall, our findings are consistent with the notion that statistically learned attentional enhancement increases the perceptual salience of items appearing at high-probability locations relative to low-probability locations.

You do not currently have access to this content.