Jan 24

Cognitive Neuroscience Society 2013 (San Francisco, CA)

Mind the gap: Flexible use of explicit knowledge during skilled sequence performance.

Daniel J. Sanchez & Paul J. Reber

Implicit and explicit learning play distinct roles in skill acquisition based on their different operating characteristics. It is hypothesized that implicit learning leads to increasingly fluid action sequence performance while explicit knowledge provides top-down control and flexible knowledge use. Using Serial Interception Sequence Learning (SISL), we have previously found that the implicit perceptual-motor sequence learning rate was unaffected by available explicit knowledge when sequential order was perceptually-guided. Here we test the hypothesis that when perceptual information is interrupted during performance, explicit knowledge can be flexibly applied during these ‘gaps’ to benefit performance. In the SISL task participants make precisely-timed motor responses to cues scrolling down one of four columns. Thirty-one participants were randomly assigned to naïve (incidental learning) or explicit training of a 12-item sequence. Explicit training featured sequence memorization prior to SISL training and included explicit retrieval practice. After training, participants performed a test containing perceptual information ‘gaps’ of 2 or 6 consecutive items. Gaps were created by masking the response cue with a bar-shaped stimulus covering all four response locations, providing no information about the correct response. Under normal conditions, both groups exhibited similar sequence-specific performance benefits for the trained sequence compared to untrained foils. However, during the perceptual-information gaps, explicitly-trained participants were able to apply their additional explicit knowledge to perform at a significantly higher rate than the naïve (implicit) group. These results suggest that while explicit knowledge does not necessarily improve stimulus-guided performance, it provides the flexibility needed for performance when external cues are not available.

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