Does Language Help Regularity Learning? The Influence of Verbalizations on Implicit Sequential Regularity Learning and the Emergence of Explicit Knowledge in Children, Younger and Older Adults

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Abstract

This study aimed at investigating the ability to learn regularities across the life span and examine whether this learning process can be supported or hampered by verbalizations. For this purpose, children (aged 8–10 years) and younger (aged 19–30 years) and older (aged 70–80 years) adults took part in a sequence learning experiment. We found that verbalizing sequence-congruent information during learning is a powerful tool to generate explicit knowledge and it is especially helpful for younger adults. Although recent research suggests that implicit learning can be influenced by directing the participants’ attention to relevant aspects of the task, verbalizations had a much weaker influence on implicit than explicit learning. Our results show that verbalizing during learning slows down reaction times (RTs) but does not influence the amount of implicit learning. Especially older adults were not able to overcome the cost of the dual-task situation. Younger adults, in contrast, show an initial dual-tasking cost that, in the case of a helpful verbalization, is overcome with practice and turns into a RT and learning benefit. However, when the verbalization is omitted this benefit is lost, that is, better implicit learning seems to be confined to situations in which the supporting verbalization is maintained. Additionally, we did not find reliable age differences in implicit learning in the no verbalization groups, which speaks in favor of age-invariant models of implicit learning across the life span.

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