Ego depletion impairs implicit learning

Kelsey R. Thompson*, Daniel J. Sanchez, Abigail H. Wesley, Paul J. Reber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Implicit skill learning occurs incidentally and without conscious awareness of what is learned. However, the rate and effectiveness of learning may still be affected by decreased availability of central processing resources. Dual-task experiments have generally found impairments in implicit learning, however, these studies have also shown that certain characteristics of the secondary task (e.g., timing) can complicate the interpretation of these results. To avoid this problem, the current experiments used a novel method to impose resource constraints prior to engaging in skill learning. Ego depletion theory states that humans possess a limited store of cognitive resources that, when depleted, results in deficits in self-regulation and cognitive control. In a first experiment, we used a standard ego depletion manipulation prior to performance of the Serial Interception Sequence Learning (SISL) task. Depleted participants exhibited poorer test performance than did non-depleted controls, indicating that reducing available executive resources may adversely affect implicit sequence learning, expression of sequence knowledge, or both. In a second experiment, depletion was administered either prior to or after training. Participants who reported higher levels of depletion before or after training again showed less sequence-specific knowledge on the post-training assessment. However, the results did not allow for clear separation of ego depletion effects on learning versus subsequent sequence-specific performance. These results indicate that performance on an implicitly learned sequence can be impaired by a reduction in executive resources, in spite of learning taking place outside of awareness and without conscious intent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number0109370
JournalPloS one
Volume9
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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    Thompson, K. R., Sanchez, D. J., Wesley, A. H., & Reber, P. J. (2014). Ego depletion impairs implicit learning. PloS one, 9(10), [0109370]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109370