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Achieving Enlightenment: What Do We Know About the Implicit Learning System and Its Interaction With Explicit Knowledge?

Vidoni, Eric D. MS, PT; Boyd, Lara A. PT, PhD

Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: September 2007 - Volume 31 - Issue 3 - pp 145-154
doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e31814b148e

Two major memory and learning systems operate in the brain: one for facts and ideas (ie, the declarative or explicit system), one for habits and behaviors (ie, the procedural or implicit system). Broadly speaking these two memory systems can operate either in concert or entirely independently of one another during the performance and learning of skilled motor behaviors. This Special Issue article has two parts. In the first, we present a review of implicit motor skill learning that is largely centered on the interactions between declarative and procedural learning and memory. Because distinct neuroanatomical substrates support unique aspects of learning and memory and thus focal injury can cause impairments that are dependent on lesion location, we also broadly consider which brain regions mediate implicit and explicit learning and memory. In the second part of this article, the interactive nature of these two memory systems is illustrated by the presentation of new data that reveal that both learning implicitly and acquiring explicit knowledge through physical practice lead to motor sequence learning. In our new data, we discovered that for healthy individuals use of the implicit versus explicit memory system differently affected variability of performance during acquisition practice; variability was higher early in practice for the implicit group and later in practice for the acquired explicit group. Despite the difference in performance variability, by retention both groups demonstrated comparable change in tracking accuracy and thus, motor sequence learning. Clinicians should be aware of the potential effects of implicit and explicit interactions when designing rehabilitation interventions, particularly when delivering explicit instructions before task practice, working with individuals with focal brain damage, and/or adjusting therapeutic parameters based on acquisition performance variability

Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science (E.D.V., L.A.B), University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas; School of Rehabilitation Sciences (L.A.B.), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Address correspondence to: Lara A. Boyd, E-mail:

© 2007 Neurology Section, APTA