Comparing direct and indirect measures of sequence learning

Journal of Experimental Psychology 22 (4):948-969 (1996)
Comparing the relative sensitivity of direct and indirect measures of learning is proposed as the best way to provide evidence for unconscious learning when both conceptual and operative definitions of awareness are lacking. This approach was first proposed by Reingold & Merikle (1988) in the context of subliminal perception. In this paper, we apply it to a choice reaction time task in which the material is generated based on a probabilistic finite-state grammar (Cleeremans, 1993). We show (1) that participants progressively learn about the statistical structure of the stimulus material over training with the choice reaction time task, and (2) that they can use some of this knowledge to predict the location of the next stimulus in a subsequent “generation” task. However, detailed partial correlational analyses of the correspondence between performance during the reaction time task and the statistical structure of the training material showed that large effects remained even when controlling for explicit knowledge as assessed by the generation task. Hence we conclude (1) that at least some of the knowledge expressed through reaction time performance can not be characterized as conscious, and (2) that even when associations are found at a global level of analysis, dissociations can still be obtained when more detailed analyses are conducted. Finally, we also show that participants are limited in the depth of the contingencies they can learn about, and that these limitations are shared by the Simple Recurrent Network model of Cleeremans & McClelland (1991)
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