Position–Item Associations Play a Role in the Acquisition of Order Knowledge in an Implicit Serial Reaction Time Task

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Knowledge of sequential regularities plays a key role in forms of explicit and implicit memory, such as working memory and motor skills. Despite important advances in the study of sequence knowledge in the past century, the theoretical development of implicit and explicit memory has occurred separately. Unlike the literature on implicit sequence learning, the explicit learning literature differentiates between 2 forms of representation of serial structure, chaining (C is the item following B in the sequence A-B-C-D) and ordinal position knowledge (C is the 3rd item). In 3 experiments, we demonstrate that these 2 forms of sequence knowledge can be acquired in implicit sequence learning. In Experiment 1, 2 trained sequences were recombined at transfer such that the strength of (a) associations between serial positions and sequence elements as well as (b) associations between successive sequence elements could be estimated. In Experiment 2, we compared sequence elements placed at the trained versus untrained serial position. Experiment 3 reduced cues that can be used to determine the start of a sequence within the stream of trials. Our results suggest that the discussion held in explicit memory research about different forms of representation of sequences knowledge also is relevant for implicit sequence learning.

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