Gobel, E. W., Sanchez, D. J., & Reber, P. J. (2011). Integration of temporal and ordinal knowledge during serial interception sequence learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(4), 994-1000.
The expression of expert motor skills typically involves learning to perform a precisely timed sequence of movements (e.g., language production, music performance, athletic skills). Research examining incidental sequence learning has previously relied on a perceptually-cued task that gives participants exposure to repeating motor sequences but does not require timing of responses for accuracy. Using a novel perceptual-motor sequence learning task, learning a precisely timed cued sequence of motor actions is shown to occur without explicit instruction. Participants learned a repeating sequence through practice and showed sequence-specific knowledge via a performance decrement when switched to an unfamiliar sequence. In a second experiment, the integration of representation of action order and timing sequence knowledge was examined. When either action order or timing sequence information was selectively disrupted, performance was reduced to levels similar to completely novel sequences. Unlike prior sequence-learning research that has found timing information to be secondary to learning action sequences, when the task demands require accurate action and timing information an integrated representation of these types of information is acquired. These results provide the first evidence for incidental learning of fully integrated action and timing sequence information in the absence of an independent representation of action order, and suggest that this integrative mechanism may play a material role in the acquisition of complex motor skills.