Operating characteristics of the implicit learning system supporting serial interception sequence learning

Daniel J. Sanchez, Paul J. Reber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The memory system that supports implicit perceptual-motor sequence learning relies on brain regions that operate separately from the explicit, medial temporal lobe memory system. The implicit learning system therefore likely has distinct operating characteristics and information processing constraints. To attempt to identify the limits of the implicit sequence learning mechanism, participants performed the serial interception sequence learning (SISL) task with covertly embedded repeating sequences that were much longer than most previous studies: ranging from 30 to 60 (Experiment 1) and 60 to 90 (Experiment 2) items in length. Robust sequence-specific learning was observed for sequences up to 80 items in length, extending the known capacity of implicit sequence learning. In Experiment 3, 12-item repeating sequences were embedded among increasing amounts of irrelevant nonrepeating sequences (from 20 to 80% of training trials). Despite high levels of irrelevant trials, learning occurred across conditions. A comparison of learning rates across all three experiments found a surprising degree of constancy in the rate of learning regardless of sequence length or embedded noise. Sequence learning appears to be constant with the logarithm of the number of sequence repetitions practiced during training. The consistency in learning rate across experiments and conditions implies that the mechanisms supporting implicit sequence learning are not capacity-constrained by very long sequences nor adversely affected by high rates of irrelevant sequences during training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-452
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Implicit memory
  • Perceptual-motor learning
  • Sequence learning
  • Statistical learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Operating characteristics of the implicit learning system supporting serial interception sequence learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this