Implicit sequence learning based on instructed task set

Robert Gaschler*, Peter A. Frensch, Asher Cohen, Dorit Wenke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


How does the way we code and control actions influence automatic skill acquisition processes? Wenke and Frensch (2005) showed that instructions can lead participants to code spatial responses based on color. Here, we tested in 3 experiments to what extent response labeling and instruction-based response coding can determine what is learned in implicit sequence learning. Instructions mapped 4 gray shape stimuli to 1 of the 4 keys each in a serial reaction task, referring to the keys in terms of either their color or their spatial location. In Experiments 1 and 2 we found that people in the color instruction conditions used color for action control and acquired sequence knowledge containing color: They were susceptible to irrelevant stimulus colors at transfer and could transfer color sequence knowledge to a new arrangement of response positions and fingers, whereas participants who had received spatial instructions could not. Implicit sequence learning was thus surprisingly flexible. Depending on whether an arbitrary nonspatial response feature was used or not used to explain the stimulus-response mappings, we either found or did not find evidence that this feature became part of action control and sequence learning. Furthermore, Experiment 3 suggested that response position might become part of the sequence knowledge even if instructions do not emphasize this response feature. Together, the findings suggest that implicit sequence learning is based on action control, which in turn strongly, but not entirely, depends on which response features are used to explain the stimulus-response mappings in the instructions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1389-1407
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Action control
  • Implicit sequence learning
  • Response coding


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