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Adv Cogn Psychol. 2012;8(2):83-97. doi: 10.2478/v10053-008-0106-0. Epub 2012 May 21.

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.


Much research has been conducted 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, 2011). 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.


SRT; chaining; implicit sequence learning; race model; serial order

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