Memory systems theory argues for separate neural systems supporting implicit and explicit memory in the human brain. Neuropsychological studies support this dissociation, but empirical studies of cognitively healthy participants generally observe that both kinds of memory are acquired to at least some extent, even in implicit learning tasks. A key question is whether this observation reflects parallel intact memory systems or an integrated representation of memory in healthy participants. Learning of complex tasks in which both explicit instruction and practice is used depends on both kinds of memory and how these systems interact will be an important component of the learning process. Theories that posit an integrated, or single, memory system for both types of memory predict that explicit instruction should contribute directly to strengthening task knowledge. In contrast, if the two types of memory are independent and acquired in parallel, explicit knowledge should have no direct impact and may serve in a “scaffolding” role in complex learning. Using an implicit perceptual-motor sequence learning task, the effect of explicit pre-training instruction on skill learning and performance was assessed. Explicit pre-training instruction led to robust explicit knowledge, but sequence learning did not benefit from the contribution of pre-training sequence memorization. The lack of an instruction benefit suggests that during skill learning, implicit and explicit memory operate independently. While healthy participants will generally accrue parallel implicit and explicit knowledge in complex tasks, these types of information appear to be separately represented in the human brain consistent with multiple memory systems theory.
Keywords: sequence learning, perceptual-motor, implicit, skill, memory