The advantage of errorless learning for the acquisition of new concepts' labels in alcoholics

Psychol Med. 2010 Mar;40(3):497-502. doi: 10.1017/S0033291709990626. Epub 2009 Jul 23.


Background: Previous findings revealed that the acquisition of new semantic concepts' labels was impaired in uncomplicated alcoholic patients. The use of errorless learning may therefore allow them to improve learning performance. However, the flexibility of the new knowledge and the memory processes involved in errorless learning remain unclear.

Method: New concepts' labels acquisition was examined in 15 alcoholic patients and 15 control participants in an errorless learning condition compared with 19 alcoholic patients and 19 control subjects in a trial-and-error learning condition. The flexibility of the new information was evaluated using different photographs from those used in the learning sessions but representing the same concepts. All of the participants carried out an additional explicit memory task and an implicit memory task was also performed by subjects in the errorless learning condition.

Results: The alcoholic group in the errorless condition differed significantly from the alcoholic group in the trial-and-error condition but did not differ from the two control groups. There was no significant difference between results in the learning test and the flexibility task. Finally, in the alcoholic group, the naming score in the learning test was correlated with the explicit memory score but not with the implicit memory score.

Conclusions: Using errorless learning, alcoholics improved their abilities to learn new concepts' labels. Moreover, new knowledge acquired with errorless learning was flexible. The errorless learning advantage may rely on explicit rather than implicit memory processes in these alcohol-dependent patients presenting only mild to moderate deficits of explicit memory capacities.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Concept Formation*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Memory
  • Middle Aged
  • Reaction Time
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Task Performance and Analysis