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Procedural learning and associative memory mechanisms contribute to contextual cueing: Evidence from fMRI and eye-tracking.
Using a combination of eye tracking and fMRI in a contextual cueing task, we explored the mechanisms underlying the facilitation of visual search for repeated spatial configurations. When configurations of distractors were repeated, greater activation in the right hippocampus corresponded to greater reductions in the number of saccades to locate the target. A psychophysiological interactions analysis for repeated configurations revealed that a strong functional connectivity between this area in the right hippocampus and the left superior parietal lobule early in learning was significantly reduced toward the end of the task. Practice related changes (which we call "procedural learning") in activation in temporo-occipital and parietal brain regions depended on whether or not spatial context was repeated. We conclude that context repetition facilitates visual search through chunk formation that reduces the number of effective distractors that have to be processed during the search. Context repetition influences procedural learning in a way that allows for continuous and effective chunk updating.