Declarative learning

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Declarative learning is acquiring information that one can speak about (contrast with motor learning). The capital of a state is a declarative piece of information, while knowing how to ride a bike is not. Episodic memory and semantic memory are a further division of declarative information.

There are two ways to learn a telephone number: memorize it using your declarative memory, or use it many times to create a habit. Habit learning is called procedural memory.

Declarative memory uses your medial temporal lobe and enables you to recall the telephone number at will. Procedural memory activates the telephone number only when you are at the telephone, and uses your right-hemisphere's skill, pattern recognition.

Research indicates declarative and habit memory compete with each other during distraction[citation needed]. When in doubt, the brain chooses habit memory because it is automatic.

Several researchers at the UCLA tested the hypothesis that distraction can change the way a task is learned. In their experiment, they played a series of high and low tones while asking subjects to do a simple probabilistic classification task.[1] In the single task (ST) case, subjects only learned to predict the weather. In the dual task (DT) case, subjects were also asked to count the number of high pitched tones. The ability to use the learned knowledge was found to be about the same in either case. However, subjects were significantly better at identifying cue-associations (a test of declarative knowledge) when trained under ST rather than DT conditions. Furthermore, fMRI showed activity in the hippocampus was associated with performance under ST, but not DT conditions, whereas activity in the putamen showed the opposite correlation. The authors concluded that while distraction may not decrease the level of learning, it can result in a reduced ability to flexibly use that knowledge[2]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • K. J. Holyoak & R. G. Morrison (Eds.) 2005. Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press.


  1. ^ Poldrack, Russell. "Probabilistic classification task". Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Poldrack, Russell A.; Foerde, Karin Knowlton, Barbara J. (1 August 2006). "Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (31): 11778–11783. doi:10.1073/pnas.0602659103.