The role of situational context in the development of high-performance skills

A. D. Fisk, W. A. Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of context on perceptual learning were examined in a visual search task involving words from semantically distinct categories. Subjects were trained for a total of 8000 trials in five conditions consisting of variably mapped (VM) condition, a consistently mapped (CM) condition, and three context conditions in which the consistency of the targets and distractors was dependent on the joint occurrence of specific target/distractor sets. The results of the training phase of the experiment showed that performance in the context conditions improved more than in the VM condition, indicating some benefit of context in the absence of total consistency, but there was less improvement than in the CM condition. After training, the subjects completed 3200 trials in five transfer conditions in which the targets and distractors of the original CM and context conditions were reversed and a new CM condition was added. In the transfer phase of the experiment there was a significant increase in RT (200 ms), indicative of negative transfer, when the CM target and distractor set were reversed. The switching of VM items to CM improved performance (50 ms). Little effect of target/distractor reversal in the cycle conditions implied that context was not used to learn or maintain relationships among specific targets and distractors. The data suggest that in the absence of traditional consistency, context plays an important role in facilitating performance. The results from the training and transfer phases of the experiment are interpreted from a hybrid-connectionist model of human information processing. The importance of contextual information in real-world tasks is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-712
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of situational context in the development of high-performance skills'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this