Dynamics of nonlinguistic statistical learning: From neural entrainment to the emergence of explicit knowledge

Julia Moser*, Laura Batterink, Yiwen Li Hegner, Franziska Schleger, Christoph Braun, Ken A. Paller, Hubert Preissl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Humans are highly attuned to patterns in the environment. This ability to detect environmental patterns, referred to as statistical learning, plays a key role in many diverse aspects of cognition. However, the spatiotemporal neural mechanisms underlying implicit statistical learning, and how these mechanisms may relate or give rise to explicit learning, remain poorly understood. In the present study, we investigated these different aspects of statistical learning by using an auditory nonlinguistic statistical learning paradigm combined with magnetoencephalography. Twenty-four healthy volunteers were exposed to structured and random tone sequences, and statistical learning was quantified by neural entrainment. Already early during exposure, participants showed strong entrainment to the embedded tone patterns. A significant increase in entrainment over exposure was detected only in the structured condition, reflecting the trajectory of learning. While source reconstruction revealed a wide range of brain areas involved in this process, entrainment in areas around the left pre-central gyrus as well as right temporo-frontal areas significantly predicted behavioral performance. Sensor level results confirmed this relationship between neural entrainment and subsequent explicit knowledge. These results give insights into the dynamic relation between neural entrainment and explicit learning of triplet structures, suggesting that these two aspects are systematically related yet dissociable. Neural entrainment reflects robust, implicit learning of underlying patterns, whereas the emergence of explicit knowledge, likely built on the implicit encoding of structure, varies across individuals and may depend on factors such as sufficient exposure time and attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118378
StatePublished - Oct 15 2021


  • Auditory processing
  • Explicit learning
  • Implicit learning
  • MEG
  • Statistical learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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