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Analogical inference: The role of awareness in abstract learning

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The acquisition and flexible expression of complex relations is often attributed to declarative memory processes. The extent to which such tasks may be done implicitly has not been sufficiently explored. We report that analogical or transfer processes may be accomplished implicitly. Our analogy task requires acquisition of a transverse patterning set, and then tests for transfer on an unrelated set. Participants learn the relations A>B (given a choice between A and B choose A) and B>C and the unrelated set X>Y and Y>Z. Only the experimental group was trained on the transverse pair C>A. At test all trials are unreinforced: A?B, B?C, A?C, X?Y, Y?Z, X?Z. Analogy was observed when the experimental group chose Z>X at greater frequency than controls who uniformly chose X>Z. Analogy occurred with or without awareness of the transfer. The capacity to transfer relations to an analogous set demonstrates a level of flexibility and abstraction not generally thought to be possible for implicit processes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Publication date: November 1, 2007

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