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Conscious Cogn. 2012 Mar;21(1):476-86. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.12.009. Epub 2012 Jan 23.

Unconscious structural knowledge of tonal symmetry: Tang poetry redefines limits of implicit learning.

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School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.


The study aims to help characterize the sort of structures about which people can acquire unconscious knowledge. It is already well established that people can implicitly learn n-grams (chunks) and also repetition patterns. We explore the acquisition of unconscious structural knowledge of symmetry. Chinese Tang poetry uses a specific sort of mirror symmetry, an inversion rule with respect to the tones of characters in successive lines of verse. We show, using artificial poetry to control both n-gram structure and repetition patterns, that people can implicitly learn to discriminate inversions from non-inversions, presenting a challenge to existing models of implicit learning.

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