Research Summary: Trial-by-Trial Changes in a Priori Informational Value of External Cues and Subjective Expectancies in Human Auditory Attention



Preparatory activity based on a priori probabilities generated in previous trials and subjective expectancies would produce an attentional bias. However, preparation can be correct (valid) or incorrect (invalid) depending on the actual target stimulus. The alternation effect refers to the subjective expectancy that a target will not be repeated in the same position, causing RTs to increase if the target location is repeated. The present experiment, using the Posner’s central cue paradigm, tries to demonstrate that not only the credibility of the cue, but also the expectancy about the next position of the target are changedin a trial by trial basis. Sequences of trials were analyzed.


The results indicated an increase in RT benefits when sequences of two and three valid trials occurred. The analysis of errors indicated an increase in anticipatory behavior which grows as the number of valid trials is increased. On the other hand, there was also an RT benefit when a trial was preceded by trials in which the position of the target changed with respect to the current trial (alternation effect). Sequences of two alternations or two repetitions were faster than sequences of trials in which a pattern of repetition or alternation is broken.


Taken together, these results suggest that in Posner’s central cue paradigm, and with regard to the anticipatory activity, the credibility of the external cue and of the endogenously anticipated patterns of target location are constantly updated. The results suggest that Bayesian rules are operating in the generation of anticipatory activity as a function of the previous trial’s outcome, but also on biases or prior beliefs like the “gambler fallacy”.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 16-June-2011

Author(s): Arjona A., Gómez C.


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