Implicit and Sequential Learning in a Motor Sequence Task

Open Access
McCaffrey, Kaitlyn Patricia
Area of Honors:
Communication Sciences and Disorders
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Carol Anne Miller, Thesis Supervisor
  • Carol Anne Miller, Honors Advisor
  • Krista M Wilkinson, Faculty Reader
  • Implicit learning
  • sequential learning
  • motor sequence task
  • cognition
  • language
While current research suggests that procedural and implicit learning are present in overall language learning, there is little known about their presence in a motor sequence task. This current study aimed to find a presence of procedural/implicit learning in a gesture sequence task conducted on children with and without language impairments. To ensure the experiment was designed effectively, the task was also performed by five adults. The gesture sequence task was presented on a computer screen and included four hand shapes. Participants were asked to imitate the hand shapes as quickly and as accurately as possible. The task contained 200 hand shapes broken up into four phases: 50 random trials, two sets of 50 sequential trials, and a final 50 random trials. Each participant’s performance was recorded so that completion times could be calculated. Completion times were calculated in sets of ten hand shapes. A shorter completion time for the sequential trials than the random trials suggests a presence of procedural and implicit learning. A majority of the adult participants had decreased completion times by the 2nd phase of the sequential phase followed by an increase in completion times for the final random phase. However, when the children performed the task, mixed results were found. Only one of the five children showed a pattern of completion times that was consistent with procedural and implicit learning. These mixed results may be due to fatigue, attention span, or the design of the experiment. Future studies will need to alter the task by increasing the number of trials, removing the requirement to replace the hand after each gesture, or removing the break during the sequential phase of the task. These alterations may decrease the variability of results.