Ventura, P., Fernandes, T., Cohen, L., Morais, J., Kolinsky, R., & Dehaene, S. (2013). Literacy acquisition reduces the influence of automatic holistic processing of faces and houses. NeuroScience Letters, 554, 105-109.
Writing was invented too recently to have influenced the human genome. Consequently, reading acqui- sition must rely on partial recycling of pre-existing brain systems. Prior fMRI evidence showed that in literates a left-hemispheric visual region increases its activation to written strings relative to illit- erates and reduces its response to faces. Increasing literacy also leads to a stronger right-hemispheric lateralization for faces. Here, we evaluated whether this reorganization of the brain’s face system has behavioral consequences for the processing of non-linguistic visual stimuli. Three groups of adult illiter- ates, ex-illiterates and literates were tested with the sequential composite face paradigm that evaluates the automaticity with which faces are processed as wholes. Illiterates were consistently more holistic than participants with reading experience in dealing with faces. A second experiment replicated this effect with both faces and houses. Brain reorganization induced by literacy seems to reduce the influence of automatic holistic processing of faces and houses by enabling the use of a more analytic and flexible processing strategy, at least when holistic processing is detrimental to the task.
Li, F., Jiang, S., Guo, X., Yang, Z, & Dienes, Z. (2013). The nature of the memory buffer in implicit learning: Learning Chinese tonal symmetries. Consciousness and Cognition 22, 920-930
Previous research has established that people can implicitly learn chunks, which (in terms of formal language theory) do not require a memory buffer to process. The present study explores the implicit learning of nonlocal dependencies generated by higher than finite state grammars, specifically, Chinese tonal retrogrades (i.e. centre embeddings generated from a context-free grammar) and inversions (i.e. cross-serial dependencies generated from a mildly context-sensitive grammar), which do require buffers (for example, last in-first out and first in-first out, respectively). People were asked to listen to and memorize artificial poetry instantiating one of the two grammars; after this training phase, people were informed of the existence of rules and asked to classify new poems, while providing attributions of the basis of their judgments. People acquired unconscious structural knowledge of both tonal retrogrades and inversions. Moreover, inversions were implicitly learnt more easily than retrogrades constraining the nature of the memory buffer in computational models of implicit learning.
Atas, A., Vermeiren, A., & Cleeremans, A. (2013). Repeating a strongly masked stimulus increases priming and awareness. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1422-1430.
Previous studies [Marcel, A. J. (1983). Conscious and unconscious perception: Experiments on visual masking and word recognition. Cognitive Psychology, 15(2), 197–237; Wentura, D., & Frings, C. (2005). Repeated masked category primes interfere with related exemplars: New evidence for negative semantic priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31(1), 108–120] suggested that repeatedly presenting a masked stimulus improves priming without increasing perceptual awareness. However, neural the- ories of consciousness predict the opposite: Increasing bottom-up strength in such a par- adigm should also result in increasing availability to awareness. Here, we tested this prediction by manipulating the number of repetitions of a strongly masked digit. Our results do not replicate the dissociation observed in previous studies and are instead sug- gestive that repeating an unconscious and attended masked stimulus enables the progres- sive emergence of perceptual awareness.
Atas, A., Faivre, N., Timmermans, B., Cleeremans, A., & Kouider, S. (in press). Nonconscious learning from crowded sequences. Psychological Science.
Can people learn complex information without conscious awareness? Implicit learning—learning without awareness of what has been learned—has been the focus of intense investigation over the last 50 years. However, it remains controversial whether complex knowledge can be learned implicitly. In the research reported here, we addressed this challenge by asking participants to differentiate between sequences of symbols they could not perceive consciously. Using an operant-conditioning task, we showed that participants learned to associate distinct sequences of crowded (nondiscriminable) symbols with their respective monetary outcomes (reward or punishment). Overall, our study demonstrates that sensitivity to sequential regularities can arise through the nonconscious temporal integration of perceptual information.