We examined changes of event-related potentials (ERPs) while participants learned stimulus-to-stimulus relations in an S1-S2 task. The design allowed for separating processes of associative learning from nonspecific effects. Participants had to respond to S2 by a left or right key-press dependent on S2 identity (letter W or M). Preparation for S2 could be improved by using the associative information given by S1. The S1 was an arrow pointing to the left or right. In combination with its color, arrow direction was informative about location and identity of S2, but participants were not informed about the relevance of color. Arrows in two of the colors were fully predictive for the S2 whereas the third color gave no valid information. This third stimulus controlled for habituation and procedural learning. Six blocks with 200 trials each and all three S1 colors in random order were presented. Behavioral and ERP differences in each block between "learning" and control trials were used to identify processes of associative learning, Several effects of associative learning were identified indicating the involvement of specific stages of information processing: a continuous increase of P3 amplitude evoked by S1 was accompanied by a decrease of P3 evoked by S2. These changes reflected the modifications of stimulus weights for response selection and the strengthened association between the two stimulus complexes in the time course of learning. The related motor preparation benefited from learning too, expressed in a decrease of CNV amplitude and an increase of LRP amplitude. Finally a decrease of N1 amplitude evoked by S2 indicated the reduced need to allocate spatial attention to the S2 location according to the learned meaning of S1.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)