Linking actions and objects: Context-specific learning of novel weight priors

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Distinct explicit and implicit memory processes support weight predictions used when lifting objects and making perceptual judgments about weight, respectively. The first time that an object is encountered weight is predicted on the basis of learned associations, or priors, linking size and material to weight. A fundamental question is whether the brain maintains a single, global representation of priors, or multiple representations that can be updated in a context specific way. A second key question is whether the updating of priors, or the ability to scale lifting forces when repeatedly lifting unusually weighted objects requires focused attention. To investigate these questions we compared the adaptability of weight predictions used when lifting objects and judging their weights in different groups of participants who experienced size-weight inverted objects passively (with the objects placed on the hands) or actively (where participants lift the objects) under full or divided attention. To assess weight judgments we measured the size-weight illusion after every 20 trials of experience with the inverted objects both passively and actively. The attenuation of the illusion that arises when lifting inverted object was found to be context-specific such that the attenuation was larger when the mode of interaction with the inverted objects matched the method of assessment of the illusion. Dividing attention during interaction with the inverted objects had no effect on attenuation of the illusion, but did slow the rate at which lifting forces were scaled to the weight inverted objects. These findings suggest that the brain stores multiple representations of priors that are context specific, and that focused attention is important for scaling lifting forces, but not for updating weight predictions used when judging object weight.

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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Publisher's version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2017.02.014

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