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Brain Res. 2008 Jul 24;1221:80-92. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2008.05.005. Epub 2008 May 13.

Instruction effects in implicit artificial grammar learning: a preference for grammaticality.

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Cognitive Neurophysiology Research Group, Stockholm Brain Institute, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Human implicit learning can be investigated with implicit artificial grammar learning, a paradigm that has been proposed as a simple model for aspects of natural language acquisition. In the present study we compared the typical yes-no grammaticality classification, with yes-no preference classification. In the case of preference instruction no reference to the underlying generative mechanism (i.e., grammar) is needed and the subjects are therefore completely uninformed about an underlying structure in the acquisition material. In experiment 1, subjects engaged in a short-term memory task using only grammatical strings without performance feedback for 5 days. As a result of the 5 acquisition days, classification performance was independent of instruction type and both the preference and the grammaticality group acquired relevant knowledge of the underlying generative mechanism to a similar degree. Changing the grammatical stings to random strings in the acquisition material (experiment 2) resulted in classification being driven by local substring familiarity. Contrasting repeated vs. non-repeated preference classification (experiment 3) showed that the effect of local substring familiarity decreases with repeated classification. This was not the case for repeated grammaticality classifications. We conclude that classification performance is largely independent of instruction type and that forced-choice preference classification is equivalent to the typical grammaticality classification.

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