Implementing flexibility in automaticity: Evidence from context-specific implicit sequence learning
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Attention is often dichotomized into controlled vs. automatic processing, where controlled processing is slow, flexible, and intentional, and automatic processing is fast, inflexible, and unintentional. In contrast to this strict dichotomy, there is mounting evidence for context-specific processes that are engaged rapidly yet are also flexible. In the present study we extend this idea to the domain of implicit learning to examine whether flexibility in automatic processes can be implemented through the reliance on contextual features. Across three experiments we show that participants can learn implicitly two complementary sequences that are associated with distinct contexts, and that transfer of learning when the two contexts are randomly intermixed depends on the distinctiveness of the two contexts. Our results point to the role of context-specific processes in the acquisition and expression of implicit sequence knowledge, and also suggest that episodic details can be represented in sequence knowledge.