Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 56-62

First online:

Distinguishing implicit and explicit learning

  • Michael A. StadlerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Missouri Email author 


I agree with Dienes and Berry’s (1997) and Neal and Hesketh’s (1997) call for investigations of the qualitative differences between implicit and explicit learning and note that such investigations must be guided by a workable definition of what is implicit and by theories that predict what the qualitative differences might be. Following Schacter, Bowers, and Booker’s (1989) retrieval intentionality criterion, I propose using anencoding intentionality criterion to distinguish implicit from explicit learning; we can reasonably infer that implicit learning has occurred when a variable known to influence explicit learning has no effect in a comparable implicit learning condition. I then suggest that implicit learning depends on noncognitive, nonhierarchical associations, whereas explicit learning depends on cognitive, hierarchical associations, and briefly describe an experiment that confirms a qualitative difference between implicit and explicit learning predicted by this hypothesis.