Statistical learning under incidental versus intentional conditions

Joanne Arciuli, Janne von Koss Torkildsen, David J. Stevens, Ian C. Simpson

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31 Citations (Scopus)
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Statistical learning (SL) studies have shown that participants are able to extract regularities in input they are exposed to without any instruction to do so. This and other findings, such as the fact that participants are often unable to verbalize their acquired knowledge, suggest that SL can occur implicitly or incidentally. Interestingly, several studies using the related paradigms of artificial grammar learning and serial response time tasks have shown that explicit instructions can aid learning under certain conditions. Within the SL literature, however, very few studies have contrasted incidental and intentional learning conditions. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of having prior knowledge of the statistical regularities in the input when undertaking a task of visual sequential SL. Specifically, we compared the degree of SL exhibited by participants who were informed (intentional group) versus those who were uninformed (incidental group) about the presence of embedded triplets within a familiarization stream. Somewhat surprisingly, our results revealed that there were no statistically significant differences (and only a small effect size) in the amount of SL exhibited between the intentional versus the incidental groups. We discuss the ways in which this result can be interpreted and suggest that short presentation times for stimuli in the familiarization stream in our study may have limited the opportunity for explicit learning. This suggestion is in line with recent research revealing a statistically significant difference (and a large effect size) between intentional versus incidental groups using a very similar visual sequential SL task, but with longer presentation times. Finally, we outline a number of directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number747
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUL
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2014 Arciuli, Torkildsen, Stevens and Simpson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Explicit learning
  • Implicit learning
  • Incidental
  • Intentional
  • Sequence learning
  • Statistical learning
  • Visual statistical learning


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