Dissociating explicit and procedural-learning based systems of perceptual category learning

Behav Processes. 2004 Jun 30;66(3):309-32. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2004.03.011.


A fundamental question is whether people have available one category learning system, or many. Most multiple systems advocates postulate one explicit and one implicit system. Although there is much agreement about the nature of the explicit system, there is less agreement about the nature of the implicit system. In this article, we review a dual systems theory of category learning called competition between verbal and implicit systems (COVIS) developed by Ashby et al. The explicit system dominates the learning of verbalizable, rule-based category structures and is mediated by frontal brain areas such as the anterior cingulate, prefrontal cortex (PFC), and head of the caudate nucleus. The implicit system, which uses procedural learning, dominates the learning of non-verbalizable, information-integration category structures, and is mediated by the tail of the caudate nucleus and a dopamine-mediated reward signal. We review nine studies that test six a priori predictions from COVIS, each of which is supported by the data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Caudate Nucleus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Perception*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Transfer, Psychology
  • Verbal Behavior