Implicit sequence learning: an examination of intentionality and an event expectancy heuristic

Regina O'Brien-Malone

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Implicit learning has been characterised as an unconscious process by which knowledge is acquired without a deliberate attempt to learn. A review of the literature revealed that the argument for the unconscious nature of implicit learning critically hinges on the assumption that learning which occurs under conditions in which the subjects do not intend to learn is unconscious. However, in all of the major paradigms used to investigate implicit learning, subjects have not been given a genuinely unintentional exposure to the regularity of interest. Instead, the constraints of the tasks are such that they may have induced deliberate strategic processing relevant to the regularity. Thus, the initial aim of the current research was to investigate learning under unintentional exposure conditions. A variant of the Nissen and Bullemer (1987) sequence task, one of the major experimental paradigms in the domain, was used to examine this issue. Over a series of studies, exposure to the sequence was manipulated, between subjects, in a study phase, and the effect of this exposure was assessed in a test phase. It was found that, under conditions which did not lead subjects to hold an intention to learn the sequence, but where they were required to attend to the dimension of the stimuli on which the sequence was instantiated, and to make motor responses to that dimension, subjects exposed to the sequence in the study phase showed an advantage over the control group upon transfer to the test phase. Thus learning can occur when the learner does not have an intention to learn. The second major feature of the reported research concerns the pattern in reaction time observed over the positions in the sequence. It has been claimed in the literature that this pattern in reaction time is related to the pattern of chunking used in learning the sequence. This claim was found to be incorrect. Instead, the pattern is indicative of the heuristic subjects used to do the task.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 1998


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