The Evolution of Chunks in Sequence Learning

Cogn Sci. 2022 Apr;46(4):e13124. doi: 10.1111/cogs.13124.


Chunking mechanisms are central to several cognitive processes and notably to the acquisition of visuo-motor sequences. Individuals segment sequences into chunks of items to perform visuo-motor tasks more fluidly, rapidly, and accurately. However, the exact dynamics of chunking processes in the case of extended practice remain unclear. Using an operant conditioning device, 18 Guinea baboons (Papio papio) produced a fixed sequence of nine movements during 1000 trials by pointing to a moving target on a touch screen. Response times analyses revealed a specific chunking pattern of the sequence for each baboon. More importantly, we found that these patterns evolved during the course of the experiment, with chunks becoming progressively fewer and longer. We identified two chunk reorganization mechanisms: the recombination of preexisting chunks and the concatenation of two distinct chunks into a single one. These results provide new evidence on chunking mechanisms in sequence learning and challenge current models of associative and statistical learning.

Keywords: Associative learning; Chunking; Nonhuman primate; Sequence learning; Statistical learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

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