The contribution of attention to learning was examined in delay, trace, discrimination, and discrimination reversal eyeblink conditioning in young healthy adults. Participants performed either single- or two-cued conditioning paradigms with three levels of distraction: no distraction (full attention), concurrently watching a silent movie, or concurrent verbal shadowing. Conditioning for single-cue delay and trace conditioning paradigms was unaffected by the level of distraction. Conditioning for the two-cue paradigms of discrimination and discrimination reversal was reduced greatly when attention was divided. Silent movie watching allowed for some acquisition (CRs to the CS+) but no discrimination (differential responses to CS+ vs. CS-). Verbal shadowing eliminated both acquisition and discrimination. These results indicate that, in the human, attention makes a critical contribution to the successful acquisition of two-cue eyeblink conditioning tasks that require discrimination and discrimination reversal.
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