An old problem: How can we distinguish between conscious and unconscious knowledge acquired in an implicit learning task?

Consciousness and Cognition 20 (3):658-672 (2011)
A long lasting debate in the field of implicit learning is whether participants can learn without acquiring conscious knowledge. One crucial problem is that no clear criterion exists allowing to identify participants who possess explicit knowledge. Here, we propose a method to diagnose during a serial reaction time task those participants who acquire conscious knowledge. We first validated this method by using Stroop-like material during training. Then we assessed participants’ knowledge with the Inclusion/Exclusion task and the wagering task . Both experiments confirmed that for participants diagnosed as having acquired conscious knowledge about the underlying sequence the Stroop congruency effect disappeared, whereas for participants not diagnosed as possessing conscious knowledge it only slightly decreased. In addition, both experiments revealed that only participants diagnosed as conscious were able to strategically use their acquired knowledge. Thus, our method allows to reliably distinguish between participants with and without conscious knowledge
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