Implicit, intuitive, and explicit knowledge of abstract regularities in a sound sequence: an event-related brain potential study

J Cogn Neurosci. 2006 Aug;18(8):1292-303. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.8.1292.


Implicit knowledge has been proposed to be the substrate of intuition because intuitive judgments resemble implicit processes. We investigated whether the automatically elicited mismatch negativity (MMN) component of the auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) can reflect implicit knowledge and whether this knowledge can be utilized for intuitive sound discrimination. We also determined the sensitivity of the attention-and task-dependent P3 component to intuitive versus explicit knowledge. We recorded the ERPs elicited in an "abstract" oddball paradigm. Tone pairs roving over different frequencies but with a constant ascending inter-pair interval, were presented as frequent standard events. The standards were occasionally replaced by deviating, descending tone pairs. The ERPs were recorded under both ignore and attend conditions. Subjects were interviewed and classified on the basis of whether or not they could datect the deviants. The deviants elicited an MMN even in subjects who subsequent to the MMN recording did not express awareness of the deviants. This suggests that these subjects possessed implicit knowledge of the sound-sequence structure. Some of these subjects learned, in an associative training session, to detect the deviants intuitively, that is, they could detect the deviants but did not give a correct description of how the deviants differed from the standards. Intuitive deviant detection was not accompanied by P3 elicitation whereas subjects who developed explicit knowledge of the sound sequence during the training did show a P3 to the detected deviants.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Contingent Negative Variation / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sound*