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Volume 8 Issue 2 (2012)

Editorial to the special issue Implicit Serial Learning editorial

pp. 70-72 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0104-2

Elger L. Abrahamse



Dissociable neural systems of sequence learning original article

pp. 73-82 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0105-1

Freja Gheysen, Wim Fias


Although current theories all point to distinct neural systems for sequence learning, no consensus has been reached on which factors crucially define this distinction. Dissociable judgment-linked versus motor-linked and implicit versus explicit neural systems have been proposed. This paper reviews these two distinctions, yet concludes that these traditional dichotomies prove insufficient to account for all data on sequence learning and its neural organization. Instead, a broader theoretical framework is necessary providing a more continuous means of dissociating sequence learning systems. We argue that a more recent theory, dissociating multidimensional versus unidimensional neural systems, might provide such framework, and we discuss this theory in relation to more general principles of associative learning and recent imaging findings.

Keywords: sequence learning, neural systems, hippocampus, basal ganglia, serial reaction time task, artificial grammar task

Implicit learning of what comes when and where within a sequence: The time-course of acquiring serial position-item and item-item associations to represent serial order original article

pp. 83-97 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0106-0

Nicolas W. Schuck, Robert Gaschler, Peter A. Frensch


Much research has been conducted that aimed at the representations and mechanisms that enable learning of sequential structures. A central debate concerns the question whether item-item associations (i.e., in the sequence A-B-C-D, B comes after A) or associations of item and serial list position (i.e., B is the second item in the list) are used to represent serial order. Previously, we showed that in a variant of the implicit serial reaction time task, the sequence representation contains associations between serial position and item information (Schuck, Gaschler, Keisler, & Frensch, 2012). Here, we applied models and research methods from working memory research to implicit serial learning to replicate and extend our findings. The experiment involved three sessions of sequence learning. Results support the view that participants acquire knowledge about order structure (item-item associations) and about ordinal structure (serial position-item associations). Analyses suggest that only the simultaneous use of the two types of knowledge acquisition can explain learning-related performance increases. Additionally, our results indicate that serial list position information plays a role very early in learning and that inter-item associations increasingly control behavior in later stages.

Evidence of automatic processing in sequence learning using process-dissociation original article

pp. 98-108 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0107-z

Heather M. Mong, David P. McCabe, Benjamin A. Clegg


This paper proposes a way to apply process-dissociation to sequence learning in addition and extension to the approach used by Destrebecqz and Cleeremans (2001). Participants were trained on two sequences separated from each other by a short break. Following training, participants self-reported their knowledge of the sequences. A recognition test was then performed which required discrimination of two trained sequences, either under the instructions to call any sequence encountered in the experiment "old" (the inclusion condition), or only sequence fragments from one half of the experiment "old" (the exclusion condition). The recognition test elicited automatic and controlled process estimates using the process dissociation procedure, and suggested both processes were involved. Examining the underlying processes supporting performance may provide more information on the fundamental aspects of the implicit and explicit constructs than has been attainable through awareness testing.

Keywords: implicit learning, sequence learning, process- dissociation, consciousness

Redundant sensory information does not enhance sequence learning in the serial reaction time task original article

pp. 109-120 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0108-y

Elger L. Abrahamse, Rob H. J. van der Lubbe, Willem B. Verwey, Izabela Szumska, Piotr Jaśkowski


In daily life we encounter multiple sources of sensory information at any given moment. Unknown is whether such sensory redundancy in some way affects implicit learning of a sequence of events. In the current paper we explored this issue in a serial reaction time task. Our results indicate that redundant sensory information does not enhance sequence learning when all sensory information is presented at the same location (responding to the position and/or color of the stimuli; Experiment 1), even when the distinct sensory sources provide more or less similar baseline response latencies (responding to the shape and/or color of the stimuli; Experiment 2). These findings support the claim that sequence learning does not (necessarily) benefit from sensory redundancy. Moreover, transfer was observed between various sets of stimuli, indicating that learning was predominantly response-based.

Keywords: sequence learning, implicit learning, sensory redundancy, serial reaction time task

Social intuition as a form of implicit learning: Sequences of body movements are learned less explicitly than letter sequences original article

pp. 121-131 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0109-x

Elisabeth Norman, Mark C. Price


In the current paper, we first evaluate the suitability of traditional serial reaction time (SRT) and artificial grammar learning (AGL) experiments for measuring implicit learning of social signals. We then report the results of a novel sequence learning task which combines aspects of the SRT and AGL paradigms to meet our suggested criteria for how implicit learning experiments can be adapted to increase their relevance to situations of social intuition. The sequences followed standard finite-state grammars. Sequence learning and consciousness of acquired knowledge were compared between 2 groups of 24 participants viewing either sequences of individually presented letters or sequences of body-posture pictures, which were described as series of yoga movements. Participants in both conditions showed above-chance classification accuracy, indicating that sequence learning had occurred in both stimulus conditions. This shows that sequence learning can still be found when learning procedures reflect the characteristics of social intuition. Rule awareness was measured using trial-by-trial evaluation of decision strategy (Dienes & Scott, 2005; Scott & Dienes, 2008). For letters, sequence classification was best on trials where participants reported responding on the basis of explicit rules or memory, indicating some explicit learning in this condition. For body-posture, classification was not above chance on these types of trial, but instead showed a trend to be best on those trials where participants reported that their responses were based on intuition, familiarity, or random choice, suggesting that learning was more implicit. Results therefore indicate that the use of traditional stimuli in research on sequence learning might underestimate the extent to which learning is implicit in domains such as social learning, contributing to ongoing debate about levels of conscious awareness in implicit learning.

Keywords: implicit learning, social intuition, intuition, artificial grammar learning, human movement, consciousness, fringe consciousness

Data-driven sequence learning or search: What are the prerequisites for the generation of explicit sequence knowledge? original article

pp. 132-143 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0110-4

Sabine Schwager, Dennis Rünger, Robert Gaschler, Peter A. Frensch


In incidental sequence learning situations, there is often a number of participants who can report the task-inherent sequential regularity after training. Two kinds of mechanisms for the generation of this explicit knowledge have been proposed in the literature. First, a sequence representation may become explicit when its strength reaches a certain level (Cleeremans, 2006), and secondly, explicit knowledge may emerge as the result of a search process that is triggered by unexpected events that occur during task processing and require an explanation (the unexpected-event hypothesis; Haider & Frensch, 2009). Our study aimed at systematically exploring the contribution of both mechanisms to the generation of explicit sequence knowledge in an incidental learning situation. We varied the amount of specific sequence training and inserted unexpected events into a 6-choice serial reaction time task. Results support the unexpected-event view, as the generation of explicit sequence knowledge could not be predicted by the representation strength acquired through implicit sequence learning. Rather sequence detection turned out to be more likely when participants were shifted to the fixed repeating sequence after training than when practicing one and the same fixed sequence without interruption. The behavioral effects of representation strength appear to be related to the effectiveness of unexpected changes in performance as triggers of a controlled search.

Keywords: sequence learning, explicit sequence knowledge, sequence detection, serial reaction time task, reportable knowledge, unexpected events

Chunking or not chunking? How do we find words in artificial language learning? original article

pp. 144-154 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0111-3

Ana Franco, Arnaud Destrebecqz


What is the nature of the representations acquired in implicit statistical learning? Recent results in the field of language learning have shown that adults and infants are able to find the words of an artificial language when exposed to a continuous auditory sequence consisting in a random ordering of these words. Such performance can only be based on processing the transitional probabilities between sequence elements. Two different kinds of mechanisms may account for these data: Participants may either parse the sequence into smaller chunks corresponding to the words of the artificial language, or they may become progressively sensitive to the actual values of the transitional probabilities between syllables. The two accounts are difficult to differentiate because they make similar predictions in comparable experimental settings. In this study, we present two experiments that aimed at contrasting these two theories. In these experiments, participants had to learn 2 sets of pseudo-linguistic regularities: Language 1 (L1) and Language 2 (L2) presented in the context of a serial reaction time task. L1 and L2 were either unrelated (none of the syllabic transitions of L1 were present in L2), or partly related (some of the intra-words transitions of L1 were used as inter-words transitions of L2). The two accounts make opposite predictions in these two settings. Our results indicate that the nature of the representations depends on the learning condition. When cues were presented to facilitate parsing of the sequence, participants learned the words of the artificial language. However, when no cues were provided, performance was strongly influenced by the employed transitional probabilities.

Keywords: implicit statistical learning, transitional probabilities, chunking, serial reaction time task

Stimulus-dependent modulation of perceptual and motor learning in a serial reaction time task original article

pp. 155-164 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0112-2

Waldemar Kirsch, Joachim Hoffmann


In two experiments, we investigated the impact of spatial attributes on the representation acquired during a serial reaction time task. Two sequences were used, in which structural regularities occurred either in the horizontal or in the vertical locations of successive stimuli. After training with the dominant hand, participants were required to respond with the non-dominant hand to either the original sequence or to a mirror-ordered version of the original sequence that required finger movements homologous to those used during training. We observed that a difference in reaction times between the two transfer conditions was smaller in the vertical sequence than in the horizontal sequence. This pattern of results was independent of whether three fingers (Experiment 1) were used or only one finger (Experiment 2) was used for responding. This result suggests that perceptual and motor learning mechanisms may be weighted differently depending on the context in which the stimulus is presented.

Keywords: serial reaction time task, sensorimotor learning, intermanual transfer

Generalized lessons about sequence learning from the study of the serial reaction time task original article

pp. 165-178 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0113-1

Hillary Schwarb, Eric H. Schumacher


Over the last 20 years researchers have used the serial reaction time (SRT) task to investigate the nature of spatial sequence learning. They have used the task to identify the locus of spatial sequence learning, identify situations that enhance and those that impair learning, and identify the important cognitive processes that facilitate this type of learning. Although controversies remain, the SRT task has been integral in enhancing our understanding of implicit sequence learning. It is important, however, to ask what, if anything, the discoveries made using the SRT task tell us about implicit learning more generally. This review analyzes the state of the current spatial SRT sequence learning literature highlighting the stimulus-response rule hypothesis of sequence learning which we believe provides a unifying account of discrepant SRT data. It also challenges researchers to use the vast body of knowledge acquired with the SRT task to understand other implicit learning literatures too often ignored in the context of this particular task. This broad perspective will make it possible to identify congruencies among data acquired using various different tasks that will allow us to generalize about the nature of implicit learning.

Keywords: sequence learning, implicit learning, serial reaction time task

Manipulating attentional load in sequence learning through random number generation original article

pp. 179-195 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0114-0

Michał Wierzchoń, Vinciane Gaillard, Dariusz Asanowicz, Axel Cleeremans


Implicit learning is often assumed to be an effortless process. However, some artificial grammar learning and sequence learning studies using dual tasks seem to suggest that attention is essential for implicit learning to occur. This discrepancy probably results from the specific type of secondary task that is used. Different secondary tasks may engage attentional resources differently and therefore may bias performance on the primary task in different ways. Here, we used a random number generation (RNG) task, which may allow for a closer monitoring of a participant?s engagement in a secondary task than the popular secondary task in sequence learning studies: tone counting (TC). In the first two experiments, we investigated the interference associated with performing RNG concurrently with a serial reaction time (SRT) task. In a third experiment, we compared the effects of RNG and TC. In all three experiments, we directly evaluated participants? knowledge of the sequence with a subsequent sequence generation task. Sequence learning was consistently observed in all experiments, but was impaired under dual-task conditions. Most importantly, our data suggest that RNG is more demanding and impairs learning to a greater extent than TC. Nevertheless, we failed to observe effects of the secondary task in subsequent sequence generation. Our studies indicate that RNG is a promising task to explore the involvement of attention in the SRT task.

Keywords: implicit learning, attention, serial reaction time task, random number generation task, tone counting task

Prediction during statistical learning, and implications for the implicit/explicit divide original article

pp. 196-209 | First published on 28 June 2012 | DOI:10.5709/acp-0115-z

Rick Dale, Nicholas D. Duran, J. Ryan Morehead


Accounts of statistical learning, both implicit and explicit, often invoke predictive processes as central to learning, yet practically all experiments employ non-predictive measures during training. We argue that the common theoretical assumption of anticipation and prediction needs clearer, more direct evidence for it during learning. We offer a novel experimental context to explore prediction, and report results from a simple sequential learning task designed to promote predictive behaviors in participants as they responded to a short sequence of simple stimulus events. Predictive tendencies in participants were measured using their computer mouse, the trajectories of which served as a means of tapping into predictive behavior while participants were exposed to very short and simple sequences of events. A total of 143 participants were randomly assigned to stimulus sequences along a continuum of regularity. Analysis of computer-mouse trajectories revealed that (a) participants almost always anticipate events in some manner, (b) participants exhibit two stable patterns of behavior, either reacting to vs. predicting future events, (c) the extent to which participants predict relates to performance on a recall test, and (d) explicit reports of perceiving patterns in the brief sequence correlates with extent of prediction. We end with a discussion of implicit and explicit statistical learning and of the role prediction may play in both kinds of learning.

Keywords: prediction, consciousness, dynamics, implicit learning, statistical learning, serial reaction time, computer-mouse tracking