The large literature on incidental learning relies almost exclusively on laboratory experiments. Whenever researchers have attempted to demonstrate incidental learning of real-world regularities, they have typically failed to show learning. For example, it is well established that people do not learn regularities in everyday objects, such as the left-right orientation of faces on coins, despite a very large exposure to them. In this report, we examine this apparent contradiction. We argue that most studies exploring real-life incidental learning use tests that are not as sensitive to low-confidence information as those traditionally used in laboratory tasks. Using more sensitive measures, we show that it is possible to learn regularities from British and Japanese cultural life as a direct result of exposure to these regularities. Further, confidence measures suggest that although the information may be acquired incidentally, it can be expressed with and without concomitant awareness of that knowledge.
- incidental learning
- educational psychology