Memory for Incidentally Learned Categories Evolves in the Post-Learning Interval

Yafit Gabay, Avi Karni, Lori L. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans generate categories from complex regularities evolving across even imperfect sensory input. Here, we examined the possibility that incidental experiences can generate lasting category knowledge. Adults practiced a simple visuomotor task not dependent on acoustic input. Novel categories of acoustically complex sounds were not necessary for task success but aligned incidentally with distinct visuomotor responses in the task. Incidental sound category learning emerged robustly when within-category sound exemplar variability was closely yoked to visuomotor task demands and was not apparent in the initial session when this coupling was less robust. Nonetheless, incidentally acquired sound category knowledge was evident in both cases one day later, indicative of offline learning gains and, nine days later, learning in both cases supported explicit category labeling of novel sounds. Thus, a relatively brief incidental experience with multi-dimensional sound patterns aligned with behaviorally relevant actions and events can generate new sound categories, immediately after the learning experience or a day later. These categories undergo consolidation into long-term memory to support robust generalization of learning, rather than simply reflecting recall of specific sound-pattern exemplars previously encountered. Humans thus forage for information to acquire and consolidate new knowledge that may incidentally support behavior, even when learning is not strictly necessary for performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere81855
StatePublished - 24 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, eLife Sciences Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Auditory categorization
  • category learning
  • memory consolidation
  • off-line gains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Neuroscience


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