Statistical learning within and between modalities: Pitting abstract against stimulus-specific representations

Christopher M. Conway, Morten H. Christiansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

218 Scopus citations


When learners encode sequential patterns and generalize their knowledge to novel instances, are they relying on abstract or stimulus-specific representations? Research on artificial grammar learning (AGL) has shown transfer of learning from one stimulus set to another, and such findings have encouraged the view that statistical learning is mediated by abstract representations that are independent of the sense modality or perceptual features of the stimuli. Using a novel modification of the standard AGL paradigm, we obtained data to the contrary. These experiments pitted abstract processing against stimulus-specific learning. The findings show that statistical learning results in knowledge that is stimulus-specific rather than abstract. They show furthermore that learning can proceed in parallel for multiple input streams along separate perceptual dimensions or sense modalities. We conclude that learning sequential structure and generalizing to novel stimuli inherently involve learning mechanisms that are closely tied to the perceptual characteristics of the input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)905-912
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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