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The role of awareness in statistical learning: conceptual and methodological issues

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The term statistical learning (SL) designates the ability of 8 m.o. infants to identify the "words" embedded in a continuous stream of syllables. This phenomenon closely resembles implicit learning as they both rely on the automatic, incidental and spontaneous extraction of the regularities present in the ...

The term statistical learning (SL) designates the ability of 8 m.o. infants to identify the "words" embedded in a continuous stream of syllables. This phenomenon closely resembles implicit learning as they both rely on the automatic, incidental and spontaneous extraction of the regularities present in the environment.

Despite these similarities, researchers in the fields of statistical and implicit learning have pursued different goals. Whereas research on implicit learning focused on the nature of the acquired knowledge and on the question of consciousness, statistical learning was mainly concerned by language acquisition and mostly by speech segmentation.

While measures of consciousness are still a matter of debate in implicit learning research, the question was only rarely addressed in the domain statistical learning. This is probably due to the fact that the question of statistical learning has been largely explored in a developmental context, and that the seminal studies of the domain focused on infant learning. The question of awareness is, for obvious reasons, difficult to address in these participants.

Recent studies explore statistical learning in other modalities and using different material than sequences of syllables. Results have shown that the ability to compute statistical information is not limited to linguistic stimuli, but can also be observed with visual stimuli. Moreover, children and adults learn these statistical regularities as well as infants.

The goal of this research topic is to provide a state on the art of the conceptual and methodological issues that follow from the recent developments in the field of implicit statistical learning: What are the mechanisms of statistical learning? What is the nature of the acquired representations? Does statistical learning depend on a domain-general learning mechanism? Could statistical learning occur unconsciously?


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