Is the Hebb repetition task a reliable measure of individual differences in sequence learning?

Louisa Bogaerts*, Noam Siegelman, Tali Ben-Porat, Ram Frost

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The Hebb repetition task, an operationalization of long-term sequence learning through repetition, is the focus of renewed interest, as it is taken to provide a laboratory analogue for naturalistic vocabulary acquisition. Indeed, recent studies have consistently related performance in the Hebb repetition task with a range of linguistic (dis)abilities. However, despite the growing interest in the Hebb repetition effect as a theoretical construct, no previous research has ever tested whether the task used to assess Hebb learning offers a stable and reliable measure of individual performance in sequence learning. Since reliability is a necessary condition to predictive validity, in the present work, we tested whether individual ability in visual verbal Hebb repetition learning displays basic test–retest reliability. In a first experiment, Hebrew–English bilinguals performed two verbal Hebb tasks, one with English and one with Hebrew consonant letters. They were retested on the same Hebb tasks after a period of about 6 months. Overall, serial recall performance proved to be a stable and reliable capacity of an individual. By contrast, the test–retest reliability of individual learning performance in our Hebb task was close to zero. A second experiment with French speakers replicated these results and demonstrated that the concurrent learning of two repeated Hebb sequences within the same task minimally improves the reliability scores. Taken together, our results raise concerns regarding the usefulness of at least some current Hebb learning tasks in predicting linguistic (dis)abilities. The theoretical implications are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)892-905
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 217/14 awarded to Ram Frost), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant RO1-HD 067364 awarded to Ken Pugh and Ram Frost, PO1-HD 01994 awarded to Haskins Laboratories), ERC-2015-AdG-692502 and by the Research Foundation-Flanders/The Fyssen foundation, of which Louisa Bogaerts was a research fellow.

Publisher Copyright:
© Experimental Psychology Society 2017.


  • Sequence learning
  • individual differences
  • serial recall
  • test reliability
  • the Hebb repetition effect


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