Psychological Research

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 119–133 | Cite as

Secondary-task effects on sequence learning

  • Herbert Heuer
  • Volker Schmidtke
Original Article


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.


Unique Sequence Verbal Memory Secondary Task Sequence Learning Previous Suggestion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Herbert Heuer
    • 1
  • Volker Schmidtke
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Arbeitsphysiologie an der Universität DortmundDortmundGermany

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