Sanchez, D.J., Wesley, A.H., & Reber, P.J.
Although implicit skill learning occurs incidentally and without conscious awareness of what is learned, the rate and effectiveness of learning may still be affected by variation in the cognitive state of the learner during practice. Ego depletion theory states that humans possess a limited store of cognitive resources that, when depleted, results in deficits in self-regulation and cognitive control. While the specific mechanism of ego depletion is not known, its effects on processes associated with dopaminergic function suggest the possibility that ego depletion might affect the dopamine-gated plasticity that is hypothesized to support implicit sequential skill learning. In a first experiment this idea was tested using an assessment of pre-experimental depletion given prior to training on the Serial Interception Skill Learning (SISL) task and relative depletion state was found to predict implicit learning rate. In a second experiment, ego depletion was manipulated by having participants complete a depleting task prior to a standard implicit learning protocol. Depleted participants exhibited less learning than did non-depleted controls. In a third experiment, depletion was administered after training and was not found to interfere with skilled performance, suggesting the effect of ego depletion is specific to learning. These results indicate that in both training and educational contexts, ego depletion should be avoided prior to practice to maximize training gains even from rote or repetitive practice.