Eye Movements in Implicit Artificial Grammar Learning

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Artificial grammar learning (AGL) has been probed with forced-choice behavioral tests (active tests). Recent attempts to probe the outcomes of learning (implicitly acquired knowledge) with eye-movement responses (passive tests) have shown null results. However, these latter studies have not tested for sensitivity effects, for example, increased eye movements on a printed violation. In this study, we tested for sensitivity effects in AGL tests with (Experiment 1) and without (Experiment 2) concurrent active tests (preference- and grammaticality classification) in an eye-tracking experiment. Eye movements discriminated between sequence types in passive tests and more so in active tests. The eye-movement profile did not differ between preference and grammaticality classification, and it resembled sensitivity effects commonly observed in natural syntax processing. Our findings show that the outcomes of implicit structured sequence learning can be characterized in eye tracking. More specifically, whole trial measures (dwell time, number of fixations) showed robust AGL effects, whereas first-pass measures (first-fixation duration) did not. Furthermore, our findings strengthen the link between artificial and natural syntax processing, and they shed light on the factors that determine performance differences in preference and grammaticality classification tests.

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