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On the benefits of not trying: brain activity and connectivity reflecting the interactions of explicit and implicit sequence learning

, : On the benefits of not trying: brain activity and connectivity reflecting the interactions of explicit and implicit sequence learning. Cerebral Cortex 15(7): 1002-1015

Under certain circumstances, implicit, automatic learning may be attenuated by explicit memory processes. We explored the brain basis of this phenomenon in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of motor sequence learning. Using a factorial design that crossed subjective intention to learn (explicit versus implicit) with sequence difficulty (a standard versus a more complex alternating sequence), we show that explicit attempts to learn the difficult sequence produce a failure of implicit learning and, in a follow-up behavioural experiment, that this failure represents a suppression of learning itself rather than of the expression of learning. This suppression is associated with sustained right frontal activation and attenuation of learning-related changes in the medial temporal lobe and the thalamus. Furthermore, this condition is characterized by a reversal of the fronto-thalamic connectivity observed with unimpaired implicit learning. The findings demonstrate a neural basis for a well-known behavioural effect: the deleterious impact of an explicit search upon implicit learning.


PMID: 15537672

DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhh201

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