Abstract Feature Codes: The Building Blocks of the Implicit Learning System

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According to the Theory of Event Coding (TEC; Hommel, Müsseler, Aschersleben, & Prinz, 2001), action and perception are represented in a shared format in the cognitive system by means of feature codes. In implicit sequence learning research, it is still common to make a conceptual difference between independent motor and perceptual sequences. This supposedly independent learning takes place in encapsulated modules (Keele, Ivry, Mayr, Hazeltine, & Heuer 2003) that process information along single dimensions. These dimensions have remained underspecified so far. It is especially not clear whether stimulus and response characteristics are processed in separate modules. Here, we suggest that feature dimensions as they are described in the TEC should be viewed as the basic content of modules of implicit learning. This means that the modules process all stimulus and response information related to certain feature dimensions of the perceptual environment. In 3 experiments, we investigated by means of a serial reaction time task the nature of the basic units of implicit learning. As a test case, we used stimulus location sequence learning. The results show that a stimulus location sequence and a response location sequence cannot be learned without interference (Experiment 2) unless one of the sequences can be coded via an alternative, nonspatial dimension (Experiment 3). These results support the notion that spatial location is one module of the implicit learning system and, consequently, that there are no separate processing units for stimulus versus response locations.

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