Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 11, pp 3059–3070 | Cite as

Executive working memory involved in the learning of contextual cueing effect

  • Minghui Chen
  • Chao Wang
  • Ben Sclodnick
  • Guang ZhaoEmail author
  • Xingze Liu
Research Article


Implicit learning of spatial layouts occurs when target–distractor configurations repeat during a visual search task [contextual cueing; Chun and Jiang in Cogn Psychol 36(1): 28–17, 1998]. This study addressed the extent to which contextual cueing depends on executive working memory (WM). In three experiments, participants performed a contextual cueing visual search task concurrently with a WM task. The WM task was either executive (subtract 3 from each digit in WM) or non-executive (hold digits in WM), and was either low load (Experiment 1) or high load (Experiment 2). Contextual cueing was attenuated in the high-load executive WM condition. Experiment 3 replicated our findings using a within-subjects design, and confirmed the interpretation that executive functions of WM are required in contextual learning.


Contextual cueing effect Executive working memory Storage working memory 



We thank Dr. Hong-jin Sun who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted the research. We are immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their comments. This research was supported by grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 31400870), China Scholarship Council (CSC) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Author contributions

MC and CW contributed equally to this work. MC, CW, and GZ designed the experiments. MC, CW, and XL prepared the materials and performed the experiments. MC, CW, BS, GZ, and XL analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PsychologyTianjin Normal UniversityTianjinChina
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and BehaviourMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Research Center of Brain and Cognitive ScienceLiaoning Normal UniversityDalianChina
  4. 4.Medical Psychological CenterSecond Xiangya Hospital of Central South UniversityChangshaChina

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