The impact of distracter-target similarity on contextual cueing effects of children and adults

Yingying Yang, Edward C. Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Contextual cueing reflects a memory-based attentional guidance process that develops through repeated exposure to displays in which a target location has been consistently paired with a specific context. In two experiments, we compared 20 younger children's (6-7. years old), 20 older children's (9-10. years old), and 20 young adults' (18-21. years old) abilities to acquire contextual cueing effects from displays in which half of the distracters predicted the location of the target and half did not. Across experiments, we varied the similarity between the predictive and nonpredictive distracters and the target. In Experiment 1, the predictive distracters were visually similar to the target and dissimilar from the nonpredictive distracters. In Experiment 2, the nonpredictive distracters were also similar to the target and predictive distracters. All three age groups exhibited contextual cueing in Experiment 1, although the effect was not as strong for the younger children relative to older children and adults. All participants exhibited weaker contextual cueing effects in Experiment 2, with the younger children not exhibiting significant contextual cueing at all. Apparently, when search processes could not be guided to the predictive distracters on the basis of salient stimulus features, younger children in particular experienced difficulty in implicitly identifying and using aspects of the context to facilitate with the acquisition of contextual cueing effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-62
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2014


  • Contextual cueing
  • Development
  • Distracter similarity
  • Guided search
  • Implicit Learning
  • Selective Attention


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