Serial Reaction Time Learning in Preschool- and School-Age Children

Kathleen M Thomas, Charles A. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Visuomotor sequence learning was assessed in 4- to 10-year-old children using a serial reaction time (SRT) task with both random and sequenced trials. One-half of the children received exposure to the sequence prior to performing the reaction time (RT) task. In Experiment 1, 7- and 10-year-old children demonstrated sequence-specific decreases in RT. As in the adult SRT literature, participants with explicit awareness of the sequence at the end of the session showed larger sequence-specific reaction time decrements than those without explicit awareness. Contrary to expectation, preexposure to the sequence did not reliably predict the level of awareness attained. Results from Experiment 2 indicate that 4-year-olds also demonstrate significant sequence learning on a variant of the SRT task. This article provides preliminary data regarding developmental changes in sequential learning and the development and use of implicit and explicit knowledge. Age-related differences emerged primarily in explicit rather than implicit knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-387
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2001
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Portions of these data were presented previously at the annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in April 1997, and reported in a doctoral dissertation by the first author (University of Minnesota) in July 1997. This research was funded in part by an Eva O. Miller Graduate School Fellowship from the University of Minnesota and an NIH Training Grant to the Center for Learning, Perception, and Cognition, University of Minnesota. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Cathy Johnson for help with data collection, Mervyn Bergman for response box design and engineering, and B. J. Casey, Michael Posner, Mary Jo Ward, and Sara Jane Webb and two reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


  • Children's learning
  • Explicit
  • Implicit
  • Motor skill learning
  • SRT
  • Serial reaction time


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