A dual process account of digit invariance learning

S.W. Kelly, K. Wilkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Performance in the McGeorge and Burton (1990) digit invariance task was originally thought to be mediated by unconscious abstraction of a "rule" that identified the invariant feature across all study items. Subsequent explanations have suggested explicit strategy use or similarity-to-exemplar matching rather than abstraction. This paper presents data that suggest that both similarity and abstraction can be used under different task demands. Delay between study and test afforded abstraction of the invariant knowledge whereas reducing the pool of study exemplars enhanced responding based on specific similarity. These results parallel effects found in the categorization literature. Rule abstraction in this sense may be due to statistical learning of feature frequency rather than abstraction of a central tendency or a complex/conceptual rule. Categorizing responses into subjective memory states (remember/know/guess) demonstrates that neither the similarity matching nor the abstraction mechanism uses information from episodic memory. Confidence measures show that participants are more confident of responses when the prototypical representation is used but not specific similarity. Taken together, these data suggest that abstracted knowledge is not held consciously but that participants have meta-awareness of when they are using the abstracted representation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1664-1680
Number of pages16
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • digit invariance learning
  • social psychology
  • educational psychology
  • abstraction


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