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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Automaticity and multiple memory systems

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A large number of criteria have been proposed for determining when a behavior has become automatic. Almost all of these were developed before the widespread acceptance of multiple memory systems. Consequently, popular frameworks for studying automaticity often neglect qualitative differences in how different memory systems guide initial learning. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that automaticity criteria derived from these frameworks consistently misclassify certain sets of initial behaviors as automatic. Specifically, criteria derived from cognitive science mislabel much behavior still under the control of procedural memory as automatic, and criteria derived from animal learning mislabel some behaviors under the control of declarative memory as automatic. Even so, neither set of criteria make the opposite error—that is, both sets correctly identify any automatic behavior as automatic. In fact, evidence suggests that although there are multiple memory systems and therefore multiple routes to automaticity, there might nevertheless be only one common representation for automatic behaviors. A number of possible cognitive and cognitive neuroscience models of this single automaticity system are reviewed. WIREs Cogn Sci 2012, 3:363–376. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1172

Figure 1.

A few examples of stimuli that might be used in a rule‐based (top) and an information–integration (bottom) category‐learning experiment. Each stimulus is a circular sine‐wave grating that varies across trials in the width and orientation of the dark and light bars. The category boundaries are denoted by the solid lines. Note that a simple verbal rule achieves perfect accuracy with the rule‐based categories (e.g., respond ‘A’ if the bars are narrow and ‘B’ if they are wide), but there is no such simple verbal description of the optimal strategy in the information–integration task.

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Figure 2.

A schematic representation of some of the more important anatomical structures and projections thought to play a role in the development and execution of automatic skilled behaviors. Note that not all structures or pathways are shown. For example, all projections out of the striatum pass first to a basal ganglia output structure (e.g., the internal segment of the globus pallidus) and then to the thalamus before reaching cortex. Also note that cortical projections to the caudate nucleus are not shown.

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In the Spotlight

Stan Klein

Stan Klein

Dr. Stan Klein’s research revolves around understanding self, memory, and consciousness. Klein argues that the unitary self of everyday experience actually is a multiplicity. For example, within memory, there are various, functionally independent systems of self-knowledge, including semantic personal facts, abstract trait self-knowledge, and episodic narratives.  Another aspect of self is its subjectivity. This form of consciousness interacts with the neurally-based aspects of self to produce the human experience of self.

Dr. Klein believes that we need to move beyond studying memory content and focus on how that content is presented to awareness. He argues that it is the manner in which content is apprehended by awareness that determines whether we experience content as episodic or semantic.

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