Implicit sequence learning: The truth is in the details

In Michael A. Stadler & Peter A. Frensch (eds.), Handbook of Implicit Learning. Newbury Park, CA: Sage (1998)
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Over the past decade, sequence learning has gradually become a central paradigm through which to study implicit learning. In this chapter, we start by briefly summarizing the results obtained with different variants of the sequence learning paradigm. We distinguish three subparadigms in terms of whether the stimulus material is generated either by following a fixed and repeating sequence (e.g., Nissen & Bullemer, 1987), by relying on a complex set of rules from which one can produce several alternative deterministic sequences (e.g., Lewicki, Hill & Bizot, 1988; Stadler, 1989), or by following the output of a probabilistic set of rules such as instantiated by noisy finite-state grammars (Cleeremans & McClelland, 1991; Jiménez, Mendéz & Cleeremans, 1996). Next, we focus on the processes involved in sequence representation and acquisition. We suggest that the sensitivity to the sequential structure observed in the probabilistic subparadigm can only be a result of the acquisition of a representation of the statistical constraints of the material, and that this sensitivity emerges through the operation of mechanisms that are well instantiated by connectionist models such as the Simple Recurrent Network (Elman, 1990; Cleeremans, 1993b). We present new simulation work meant to explore to what extent the model can also account for specific data obtained in a paradigmatic instance of deterministic, rule-based sequence learning task: Lewicki et al. (1988)'s situation. Finally, we report on the results of an experiment that compares learning on otherwise similar deterministic and probabilistic structures, and we show that learning of both types of structures is equivalent only under conditions that maximally hinder explicit acquisition. Taken together, these simulation and experimental data lend support to the claim that implicit learning in all three sequence learning subparadigms can amount to a form of statistical sequence learning. They also suggest that distinguishing among several theories of sequence representation and acquisition may require us to analize the data in great detail. Hopefully, however, some truth can be found in such details..



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