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Cognition. 2019 Sep;190:199-211. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2019.05.007. Epub 2019 May 16.

Evidence of stable individual differences in implicit learning.

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Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States. Electronic address:
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States.
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada.


There is a fundamental psychological and neuropsychological distinction between explicit and implicit memory, and it has been proposed that whereas there are stable trait individual differences in explicit memory ability, there are not such differences across people for implicit learning. There is, however, little evidence about whether or not there are stable trait differences in implicit learning. Here we performed a test-retest reliability study with healthy young adults in which they performed four implicit learning tasks (artificial grammar learning, probabilistic classification, serial response, and implicit category learning) twice, about a week apart. We found medium (by Cohen's guidelines) test-retest reliability for three of the tasks: probabilistic classification, serial response, and implicit category learning, suggesting that differences in implicit learning ability are more stable than originally thought. In addition, implicit learning on all tasks was unrelated to explicit measures: we did not find any correlation between implicit learning measures and independent measures of IQ, working memory, or explicit learning ability. These findings indicate that implicit learning, like explicit learning, varies reliably across individuals.


Implicit learning; Individual differences; Memory systems; Procedural memory; Reliability

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