The impact of implicit and explicit suggestions that 'there is nothing to learn' on implicit sequence learning

Luc Vermeylen, Elger Abrahamse, Senne Braem, Davide Rigoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

We can sometimes efficiently pick up statistical regularities in our environment in the absence of clear intentions or awareness, a process typically referred to as implicit sequence learning. In the current study, we tried to address the question whether suggesting participants that there is nothing to learn can impact this form of learning. If a priori predictions or intentions to learn are important in guiding implicit learning, we reasoned that suggesting participants that there is nothing to learn in a given context should hamper implicit learning. We introduced participants to random contexts that indicated that there was nothing to learn, either implicitly (i.e., by presenting blocks of random trials in "Experiment 1"), or explicitly (i.e., by explicitly instructing them in "Experiment 2"). Next, in a subsequent learning phase, participants performed an implicit sequence learning task. We found that these implicit or explicit suggestions that 'there was nothing to learn' did not influence the emergence of implicit knowledge in the subsequent learning phase. Although these findings seem consistent with simple associative or Hebbian learning accounts of implicit sequence learning (i.e., not steered by predictions), we discuss potential limitations that should inform future studies on the role of a priori predictions in implicit learning.

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