Neurocognitive basis of implicit learning of sequential structure and its relation to language processing

Christopher M. Conway, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

128 Scopus citations


The ability to learn and exploit environmental regularities is important for many aspects of skill learning, of which language may be a prime example. Much of such learning proceeds in an implicit fashion, that is, it occurs unintentionally and automatically and results in knowledge that is difficult to verbalize explicitly. An important research goal is to ascertain the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms of implicit learning abilities and understand its contribution to perception, language, and cognition more generally. In this article, we review recent work that investigates the extent to which implicit learning of sequential structure is mediated by stimulus-specific versus domain-general learning mechanisms. Although much of previous implicit learning research has emphasized its domain-general aspect, here we highlight behavioral work suggesting a modality-specific locus. Even so, our data also reveal that individual variability in implicit sequence learning skill correlates with performance on a task requiring sensitivity to the sequential context of spoken language, suggesting that implicit sequence learning to some extent is domain-general. Taking into consideration this behavioral work, in conjunction with recent imaging studies, we argue that implicit sequence learning and language processing are both complex, dynamic processes that partially share the same underlying neurocognitive mechanisms, specifically those that rely on the encoding and representation of phonological sequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLearning, Skill Acquisition, Reading, and Dyslexia
PublisherBlackwell Publishing Inc.
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781573317023
StatePublished - Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)0077-8923
ISSN (Electronic)1749-6632


  • Basal ganglia
  • Domain-generality
  • Implicit learning
  • Language processing
  • Modality-specificity
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Sequence learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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