The cue-approach choice effect remains unknown, the non-externally reinforced

potential for targeting automatic processes to change human behavior has become
increasingly clear 1, especially in light of the
relative ineffectiveness of relying on effortful control of behavior, given the
largely automatic and habitual nature of everyday human behavior 2. Previous research aimed at
changing choice preferences for appetitive foods employed a novel
non-reinforced training paradigm named “cue-approach training” CAT,
3. Cue-approach
training was found to be effective at influencing choice behavior in an
immediate test and the choice preference shift was shown to persist over two months
after the longest cue-approach training employed 3. The cue-approach task is related
to previous work showing that visual attention both reflects and influences
choices 4-6 and to other research on the
attentional boost effect that highlights the importance of driving attention at
behaviorally relevant points in time in boosting memory for incidental stimuli 7-9. During CAT, participants learn
to associate a tone cue to press a button when particular food items appear on
the screen. We have posited that heightened attention during behaviorally
relevant points in time modulates the subjective value placed on cue-associated
foods 3,10. Although the specific
contribution of memory to the cue-approach choice effect remains unknown, the non-externally
reinforced associative nature of cue-approach training suggests that memory
principles apply to the cue-approach task 11. In the studies described here, we
distributed CAT training trials over two days to test the effects of this
training schedule on maintenance of the preference shift one week and one month
after initial training.

One of the oldest and most reliable findings in research on human
learning is the spacing effect. Ebbinghaus 12 was the first to report, over 100
years ago, the benefits of spacing trial presentations in time during learning
on subsequent retrieval strength. Hundreds of studies have since established the
spacing effect as a potent tool to improve memory retention for
review see 13,14.

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Information studied across multiple sessions, spaced out over days or weeks, is
often better retained than information studied in the same amount of time in a
single session when tested for weeks or months after the end of the study phase.

When Reynolds and Glaser 15 taught unfamiliar biology terms to
student participants over multiple consecutive repetitions in a single 40 minute
classroom science period (massed learning) or spaced the review over multiple
classroom science periods with other learning tasks in the intervening class
periods (spaced learning), they found that spacing review over time produced
significantly better retention of the material. Meta-analysis of the spacing
effect in verbal learning tasks revealed that spaced (vs. massed) learning of
items consistently leads to better long-term retention 14. Spacing repetitions every few
minutes has the most benefit for retention on a test one day later whereas
spacing repetitions every day has the most benefit for retention over days or
weeks 14.

Researchers have also manipulated the lag, or length of spacing between
study presentations. The lag effect refers to improvements in memory
performance for information that was repeated over longer lags compared to
information repeated over shorter lags. Madigan 16 gave participants lists of words,
some of which were presented twice. The lag, or number of intervening words
between the two presentations, varied. Recall for repeated words improved with longer
lags. Here, for the sake of simplicity, we refer more generally to the spacing
effect as the benefit of longer spacing on memory retention, where spaced
training trials are distributed over longer time periods (in our case two
consecutive days) versus massed trials that are distributed over shorter time
periods (in our case on a single day).

The spacing
effect has been demonstrated across a number of types of learning. In addition
to the meta-analysis of the spacing effect on verbal learning conducted by
Cepeda et al. 14, Lee and Genovese 17 conducted a meta-analysis
examining the effects of spacing
practice on motor skills.

They found that spaced practice enhances acquisition
of motor skills compared
to massed practice but more importantly it resulted in greater retention of
motor skills compared to massed practice. Spacing strategies have also been
successfully implemented to reduce the return of fear in treatment of anxiety
disorders 18. Participants with public
speaking anxiety who underwent a spaced schedule of exposure therapy experienced
less return of fear at one-month follow-up than matched participants who
followed a massed therapy schedule.

Based on all of this research, spacing treatment sessions holds great promise
to help maintain behavioral change over longer terms than massed training. To
our knowledge, this strategy has not yet been applied to other behavioral change
efforts outside the fear domain. The goal of the current studies was to test whether
spaced training of CAT over two days results in longer retention of a shift in
choice preferences after one week and one month compared to when the training
was massed in a single training session. The studies presented here apply the
principles of spaced learning to a non-reinforced training task that targets
automatic cognitive processes (CAT) and is proven to influence appetitive
choice behavior 3,10,11to test the effectiveness of distributed
practice on the maintenance of behavioral change over time.


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