Secondary-task effects on sequence learning
- Cite this article as:
- Heuer, H. & Schmidtke, V. Psychol. Res (1996) 59: 119. doi:10.1007/BF01792433
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With a repeated sequence of stimuli, performance in a serial reaction-time task improves more than with a random sequence. The difference has been taken as a measure of implicit sequence learning. Implicit sequence learning is impaired when a secondary task is added to the serial RT task. In the first experiment, secondary-task effects on different types of sequences were studied to test the hypothesis that the learning of unique sequences (where each sequence element has a unique relation to the following one) is not impaired by the secondary task, while the learning of ambiguous sequences is. The sequences were random up to a certain order of sequential dependencies, where they became deterministic. Contrary to the hypothesis, secondary-task effects on the learning of unique sequences were as strong or stronger than such effects on the learning of ambiguous sequences. In the second experiment a hybrid sequence (with unique as well as ambiguous transitions) was used with different secondary tasks. A visuo-spatial and a verbal memory task did not interfere with the learning of the sequence, but interference was observed with an auditory go/no-go task in which high- and low-pitched tones were presented after each manual response and a foot pedal had to be pressed in response to high-pitched tones. Thus, interference seems to be specific to certain secondary tasks and may be related to memory processes (but most likely not to visuo-spatial and verbal memory) or to the organization of sequences, consistent with previous suggestions.