Although there is now substantial evidence that developmental change occurs in implicit learning abilities over the lifespan, disparate results exist regarding the specific developmental trajectory of implicit learning skills. One possible reason for discrepancies across implicit learning studies may be that younger children show an increased sensitivity to variations in implicit learning task procedures and demands relative to adults. Studies using serial-reaction time (SRT) tasks have suggested that in adults, measurements of implicit learning are robust across variations in task procedures. Most classic SRT tasks have used response-contingent pacing in which the participant's own reaction time determines the duration of each trial. However, recent paradigms with adults and children have used fixed trial pacing, which leads to alterations in both response and attention demands, accuracy feedback, perceived agency, and task motivation for participants. In the current study, we compared learning on fixed-paced and self-paced versions of a spatial sequence learning paradigm in 4-year-old children and adults. Results indicated that preschool-aged children showed reduced evidence of implicit sequence learning in comparison to adults, regardless of the SRT paradigm used. In addition, we found the preschoolers showed significantly greater learning when stimulus presentation was self-paced. These data provide evidence for developmental differences in implicit sequence learning that are dependent on specific task demands such as stimulus pacing, which may be related to developmental changes in the impact of broader constructs such as attention and task motivation on implicit learning.
- Developmental invariance hypothesis
- Implicit sequence learning
- Probabilistic learning
- Serial reaction time paradigm
- Statistical learning