Chunking as a function of sequence length


  • Tosatto Laure
  • Fagot Joël
  • Nemeth Dezso
  • Rey Arnaud


  • Associative learning
  • Chunking
  • Non-human primates
  • Sequence learning

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Chunking mechanisms are central to several cognitive processes. During the acquisition of visuo-motor sequences, it is commonly reported that these sequences are segmented into chunks leading to more fluid, rapid, and accurate performances. The question of a chunk’s storage capacity has been often investigated but little is known about the dynamics of chunk size evolution relative to sequence length. In two experiments, we studied the dynamics and the evolution of a sequence’s chunking pattern as a function of sequence length in a non-human primate species (Guinea baboons, Papio papio ). Using an operant conditioning device, baboons had to point on a touch screen to a moving target. In Experiment 1, they had to produce repeatedly the same sequence of 4 movements during 2000 trials. In Experiment 2, the sequence was composed of 5 movements and was repeated 4000 times. For both lengths, baboons initially produced small chunks that became fewer and longer with practice. Moreover, the dynamics and the evolution of the chunking pattern varied as a function of sequence length. Finally, with extended practice (i.e., more than 2000 trials), we observed that the mean chunk size reached a plateau indicating that there are fundamental limits to chunking processes that also depend on sequence length. These data therefore provide new empirical evidence for understanding the general properties of chunking mechanisms in sequence learning.

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