Evaluating the relationship between explicit and implicit knowledge in a sequential reaction time task

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 1999 Nov;25(6):1435-51. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.25.6.1435.


Can knowledge underlying a simple perceptual-motor skill be unconscious? Three experiments (a) trained participants on a 4-choice reaction time (RT) task in which the stimulus on each trial was determined by a repeating 12-element sequence and (b) studied the extent to which participants' knowledge of this sequence was implicit, that is, unavailable for conscious access. Participants proved via an indirect test to have acquired knowledge of the sequence, because their RTs increased when the sequence was changed. To evaluate whether this knowledge was consciously accessible, participants were asked to perform an "objective" free-generation or recognition test of sequence knowledge. Results show that sequence knowledge is fully accessible on these objective tests. Moreover, it is demonstrated in this procedure that old-new recognition cannot be explained by unconscious attribution of perceptual-motor fluency. The question is raised whether distinct implicit (procedural) and explicit (declarative) forms of knowledge are acquired when participants learn a perceptual-motor skill.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Reaction Time*