Mutual interference between statistical summary perception and statistical learning

Jiaying Zhao, Nhi Ngo, Ryan McKendrick, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The visual system is an efficient statistician, extracting statistical summaries over sets of objects (statistical summary perception) and statistical regularities among individual objects (statistical learning). Although these two kinds of statistical processing have been studied extensively in isolation, their relationship is not yet understood. We first examined how statistical summary perception influences statistical learning by manipulating the task that participants performed over sets of objects containing statistical regularities (Experiment 1). Participants who performed a summary task showed no statistical learning of the regularities, whereas those who performed control tasks showed robust learning. We then examined how statistical learning influences statistical summary perception by manipulating whether the sets being summarized contained regularities (Experiment 2) and whether such regularities had already been learned (Experiment 3). The accuracy of summary judgments improved when regularities were removed and when learning had occurred in advance. In sum, calculating summary statistics impeded statistical learning, and extracting statistical regularities impeded statistical summary perception. This mutual interference suggests that statistical summary perception and statistical learning are fundamentally related.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1212-1219
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • attention
  • ensemble features
  • orientation
  • statistical summary representation
  • visual statistical learning


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