IMPLICIT MOTOR LEARNING IN DISCRETE AND CONTINUOUS TASKS: TOWARD A POSSIBLE ACCOUNT OF DISCREPANT RESULTS
Authors: S. Chambaron, B. Berberian, L. Delbecque, D. Ginhac and A. Cleeremans
Abstract: Can one learn implicitly, that is, without conscious awareness of what it is that one learns? Daily life is replete with situations where our behavior is seemingly influenced by knowledge to which we have little access. Riding a bicycle, playing tennis or driving a car, all involve mastering complex sets of motor skills, yet we are at a loss when it comes to explaining exactly how we perform such physical feats. Thus, while it is commonly accepted and hence unsurprising that we have little access to the cognitive processes involved in mental operations, it also appears that knowledge itself can remain inaccessible to report yet influence behavior. Reber, who coined the expression “implicit learning” in 1967, defined it as “the process whereby people learn without intent and without being able to clearly articulate what they learn” (Cleeremans, Destrebecqz, & Boyer, 1998). The research described in this chapter is positioned at the confluence of two different domains: Implicit Learning on the one hand, and Skill Acquisition on the other. The two domains have remained largely independent from each other, but their intersection nevertheless constitutes a field of primary import: the implicit motor learning field. The hallmark of implicit motor learning is the capacity to acquire skill through physical practice without conscious recollection of what elements of performance have improved. Unfortunately, studies dealing with implicit motor learning are not very abundant (Pew, 1974; Magill & Hall, 1989; Wulf & Schmidt, 1997; Shea, Wulf, Whitacre, & Park, 2001). These studies provide an apparently straightforward demonstration of the possibility of unconsciously learning the structure of a complex continuous task in a more efficient way than explicit learning allows. Nevertheless, other evidence seems to challenge this view. Indeed, recent studies (Chambaron, Ginhac, Ferrel-Chapus & Perruchet, 2006; Ooteghem, Allard, Buchanan, Oates & Horak, 2008) suggest that taking advantage from the repetition of continuous events may not be as easy as previous research leads us to believe. Indeed, these studies have suggested that sequence learning in continuous tracking tasks might be artefatctually driven by peculiarities of the experimental material rather than by implicit sequence learning per se. Consequently, a central goal of this chapter will be to reconcile these discrepant results so as to better characterize the conditions in which implicit motor learning occurs. Moreover, understanding what facilitates or prevents learning of regularities in motor tasks will be useful both in sport and in motor rehabilitation fields.