Statistical learning describes our ability to acquire and utilize statistical regularities in the environment. Previous research shows that statistical learning can occur in different contexts and modalities. In fact, learning may even occur without explicit awareness of any regularities, suggesting that statistical learning is a fairly automatic process.

In the present fMRI study, we investigated the automaticity of the sensory effects of statistical learning. In particular, we show that after statistical learning, sensory responses to expected stimuli are attenuated relative to the response to unexpected stimuli throughout the ventral visual stream. However, this sensory attenuation depended on participants attending the predictable stimuli and creased when attention was drawn away to a competing stimulus, even though the stimuli were nonetheless processed by the visual system. These results show that attention gates the sensory effects of statistical learning, suggesting that predictive processes in the visual system are not necessarily automatic, but may depend on attending the predictable stimuli.

The full paper is available here.