Knowing without Knowing – Implicit Learning in Action

Lyn Abramson

Lyn Abramson

Implicit learning – knowing without conscious awareness – has positive effects like accelerating foreign language learning and developing more secure computer authentication systems.
It also has negative consequences like prejudiced, biased decision-making.
All of these effects require sufficient sleep to enable memory consolidation of implicit learning.

Patricia Devine

Patricia Devine

When implicit learning leads to inaccurate beliefs about others, the result is often prejudiced behavior.
In contrast,  when biased perceptions are about one self, they can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or grandiosity, according to University of Wisconsin’s William T. L. Cox, Lyn Abramson and Patricia Devine with Steven Hollon of Vanderbilt.

Brian Nosek

Brian Nosek

A validated way to identify hidden beliefs about race, age, gender, weight, and more is the Implicit Association Test, developed by University of Virginia’s Brian Nosek, Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard and University of Washington’s Anthony Greenwald.

Mahzarin Banaji

Mahzarin Banaji

Banaji and Greenwald’s popular book provides numerous examples of frequently used thinking short cuts that lead to biased beliefs, decisions, judgments, and behaviors.

Anthony Greenwald

Anthony Greenwald

Similarly, most people make quick assessments of others based on appearance using habitual strategies that don’t account for perceptual limitations, noted journalist Joseph Hallinan, who summarized research on bias, misperceptions, and judgment errors.

Joseph Hallinan

Joseph Hallinan

He cited the impact of situational framing on decision making:  When a decision option is posed as a potential gain, most people are less inclined to take risky decisions.
However, they are more willing to take risks if the option is positioned as a possible loss.

Kara Morgan-Short

Kara Morgan-Short

Implicit language learning was demonstrated by “immersion” listening to multiple native speakers.
University of Illinois at Chicago’s Kara Morgan-Short teamed with Karsten Steinhauer of McGill University and Georgetown’s Cristina Sanz and Michael T. Ullman to conduct brain scans on these language learners, and found they showed “native-like language processing.”
By contrast, explicit grammar training did not improve language learning.

Karsten Steinhauer

Karsten Steinhauer

Likewise, implicit learning principles can increase computer security authentication, useful in high-security nuclear plants or military facilities that usually require the code-holder to be physically present.

Cristina Sanz

Cristina Sanz

Security can be compromised when attackers:

  • Steal the user’s hardware token,
  • Fake the user’s identify through biometrics,
  • Coerce the victim into revealing the secret key or password (“rubber hose cryptanalysis”).
Hristo Bojinov

Hristo Bojinov

Unconscious knowledge” is a highly secure approach to biometrics authentication, demonstrated by Stanford University’s Hristo Bojinov and Dan Boneh, collaborating with Daniel Sanchez and Paul Reber of Northwestern and SRI’s Patrick Lincoln.

They included implicit learning principles in a computer game to subliminally deliver a security password without the user’s conscious awareness of the password.

Paul Reber

Paul Reber

Players “intercepted” falling objects in one of six non-random positions on a computer game screen by pressing a key corresponding to the screen position.
The game repeated a hidden sequence of 30 successive positions more than 100 times during game play.

Players made fewer errors when they encountered this sequence on successive rounds, suggesting they implicitly learned the sequence.
Skill re-tests after two weeks demonstrated that players retained this learned skill, but they were unable to consciously reconstruct or recognize fragments of the planted code sequence.

Patrick Lincoln

Patrick Lincoln

Team Bojinov’s implicit learning game demonstrated a new method of highly secure authentication that resists “rubber hose cryptanalysis” by implicitly training the user to enact the password without conscious knowledge of the code.
Their new project analyzes the rate of forgetting implicitly learned passwords and optimal frequency of security authentication refresher sessions.

However, this innovation in security authentication is dependent on the authenticator having sufficient sleep to consolidate implicit learning in memory, found Innsbruck Medical University’s Stefan Fischer, I. Wilhelm, and J. Born, who examined sleep’s impact on implicit memory formation in children ages 7- 11 and 12 young adults between ages 20 and 30.

Fischer’s team measured serial reaction time task before and after eight implicit learning sessions concentrated on rules underlying grammatical and non-grammatical language structures.
Most volunteer responded quickly, demonstrating implicit rule understanding, even though they couldn’t explain why their performance improved.

When adult participants had an interval of sleep between training sessions, their response times were quicker.
In contrast, well-rested children did not show a similar performance improvement, suggesting that sleep actually interferes with implicit performance gains among children.

Implicit learning can boost performance, seemingly “effortlessly,” but requires sufficient sleep to consolidate longer term performance improvements.
These findings are another argument against sleep deprivation in “Crunch Time” all-night work marathons.

-*How do you capitalize on implicit learning to improve performance?

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5 thoughts on “Knowing without Knowing – Implicit Learning in Action

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