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The serial reaction time (SRT) task was used to compare learning of a complex sequence by action (participants responded to sequential stimuli), by observation (participants watched but did not respond to sequential stimuli), and by action-observation (participants watched an expert model responding to sequential stimuli). Each of these groups was compared with an untrained control group. Experiment 1 indicated that both observation and action-observation were sufficient to support learning of a 12-item second-order conditional (SOC) sequence. Experiment 2 confirmed these findings, and showed that, as indexed by reaction time (RT), the extent of learning by observation and by action-observation was comparable to that of action-based learning. Using a recognition test, Experiment 2 and 3 also provided evidence that, whereas learning by stimulus observation was explicit, learning by action-observation was implicit. These findings are consistent with a connection between motor systems and implicit learning, but do not support the hypothesis that overt action is necessary for implicit learning.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Psychol

Publication Date





371 - 388


Adult, Female, Humans, Learning, Male, Reaction Time, Visual Perception