What is it about?

Learning from repetition is ubiquitous; we get better, the more we practice. We learn to ride a bike through repeated practice; we learn the words of a foreign language by studying them over and over again. This process of repetition learning, as simple as it may seem, requires a constant interaction of two memory systems: working memory and long-term memory. Working memory is understood as a capacity limited system that holds mental representations temporally available for use in thought and action. Long-term memory, on the other hand, is understood as a capacity-unlimited system which stores our knowledge and experiences. When learning from repetition, information which is temporally represented in working memory needs to be transferred to long-term memory and retrieved back into working memory when studying the same information again, to allow the formation a stable new knowledge structure. Over the last decades, this process has been described as a gradual strengthening of a long-term representation, which gains in strength with each repetition. Furthermore, it has been assumed that this process can happen implicitly, which means that people don't need to be aware that they are studying the same information over and over again. In this work, we show that these assumptions are at fault. In contrast, we show that 1) learning from repetition requires people to recognize that they are studying the same information repeatedly (= it is not happening implicitly), and 2) this process does not reflect a gradual accumulation but a rather rapid build-up of new knowledge (= it is not a continuous strengthening process).

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Why is it important?

Our results offer important insights into the basic mechanisms underlying repetition learning and foster our understanding of how working memory and long-term memory interact in simple learning situations. These are important puzzle pieces for our understanding of basic mechanisms of our cognitive system.

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This page is a summary of: Repetition learning is neither a continuous nor an implicit process, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2218042120.
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