To date, few studies have focused on the behavioural differences between the learning of multisensory auditory-visual and intra-modal associations. More specifically, the relative benefits of novel auditory-visual and verbal-visual associations for learning have not been directly compared. In Experiment 1, 20 adult volunteers completed three paired associate learning tasks: non-verbal novel auditory-visual (novel-AV), verbal-visual (verbal-AV; using pseudowords), and visual-visual (shape-VV). Participants were directed to make a motor response to matching novel and arbitrarily related stimulus pairs. Feedback was provided to facilitate trial and error learning. The results of Signal Detection Theory analyses suggested a multisensory enhancement of learning, with significantly higher discriminability measures (d-prime) in both the novel-AV and verbal-AV tasks than the shape-VV task. Motor reaction times were also significantly faster during the verbal-AV task than during the non-verbal learning tasks. Experiment 2 (n = 12) used a forced-choice discrimination paradigm to assess whether a difference in unisensory stimulus discriminability could account for the learning trends in Experiment 1. Participants were significantly slower at discriminating unisensory pseudowords than the novel sounds and visual shapes, which was notable given that these stimuli produced superior learning. Together the findings suggest that verbal information has an added enhancing effect on multisensory associative learning in adults.
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