How implicit is visual statistical learning?

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2012 Sep;38(5):1425-31. doi: 10.1037/a0027210. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


In visual statistical learning, participants learn the statistical regularities present in a sequence of visual shapes. A recent study (Kim, Seitz, Feenstra, & Shams, 2009) suggests that visual statistical learning occurs implicitly, as it is not accompanied by conscious awareness of these regularities. However, that interpretation of the data depends on 2 unwarranted assumptions concerning the nature and sensitivity of the tasks used to measure learning. In a replication of this study, we used a 4-choice completion task as a direct measure of learning, in addition to an indirect measure consisting of a rapid serial visual presentation task. Moreover, binary confidence judgments were recorded after each completion trial. This way, we measured systematically the extent to which sequence knowledge was available to consciousness. Supporting the notion that the role of unconscious knowledge was overestimated in Kim et al.'s study, our results reveal that participants' performance cannot be exclusively accounted for by implicit knowledge.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Consciousness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Unconsciousness*
  • Young Adult