The Amazing case of Learning without Awareness

This instance defines it adequately. A class at the University of Minnesota is reported to have conditioned their psychology professor a week after he told them about learning without awareness. Every time he moved toward the right side of the room, they paid more attention and laughed more uproariously at his jokes, until apparently they were able to condition him right out the door.


Implicit learning is the learning of complex information in an incidental manner, without awareness of what has been learned. According to Frensch and Rünger (2003) the general definition of implicit learning is still subject to some controversy, although the topic has had some significant developments since the 1960s. Implicit learning may require a certain minimal amount of attention and may depend on attentional and working memory mechanisms. The result of implicit learning is implicit knowledge in the form of abstract representations rather than verbatim or aggregate representations, and scholars have drawn similarities between implicit learning and implicit memory.

Examples from daily life, like learning how to ride a bicycle or how to swim, are cited as demonstrations of the nature of implicit learning and its mechanism. Stadler and Frensch say, “Essentially we argue that learning is implicit when the learning process is unaffected by intention.”

Implicit learning experiments use a dissociation paradigm to show that the knowledge was gained unintentionally and without awareness by the participant. Some measures of awareness include verbal reports, forced-choice tests and subjective tests. In most implicit learning experiments, participants show that they have gained relevant information but are unable to verbalize the knowledge that they have gained.

Implicit memory is one of the two main types of long-term human memory. It is less prone to damage as well. It is acquired and used unconsciously, and can affect thoughts and behaviours. In daily life, people rely on implicit memory every day in the form of procedural memory, the type of memory that allows people to remember how to tie their shoes without consciously thinking about these activities. And you do not have to relearn it in the future if you haven’t done it for a while.

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It is clearly of great educational importance to know what can and cannot be learned in this way and what factors might make some individuals more successful implicit learners than others. At a theoretical level, the study of implicit learning can help us come to understand the nature of unconscious learning mechanisms, their relationship to other cognitive constructs such as memory and attention, and their interactions with existing knowledge in the mind of the learner.

The implications of harnessing this mechanism of the brain is pretty rosy but so far it seems only theoretical advances have been made. It’s existence more or less cannot be denied but it may just be consciously inaccessible. It would be great to ‘learn without awareness’, something like programming or medicine. Let’s hope future researches will come up with something practical on this matter.

Source: people.ds.cam.ac.uk | wikipedia.org


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