Behavioral and Brain Sciences

A theory of implicit and explicit knowledge

Zoltan Dienes a1 and Josef Perner a2
a1 Experimental Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, Sussex BN1 9QG, England
a2 Institut fuer Psychologie, Universitaet Salzburg, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria


The implicit-explicit distinction is applied to knowledge representations. Knowledge is taken to be an attitude towards a proposition which is true. The proposition itself predicates a property to some entity. A number of ways in which knowledge can be implicit or explicit emerge. If a higher aspect is known explicitly then each lower one must also be known explicitly. This partial hierarchy reduces the number of ways in which knowledge can be explicit. In the most important type of implicit knowledge, representations merely reflect the property of objects or events without predicating them of any particular entity. The clearest cases of explicit knowledge of a fact are representations of one's own attitude of knowing that fact. These distinctions are discussed in their relationship to similar distinctions such as procedural-declarative, conscious-unconscious, verbalizable-nonverbalizable, direct-indirect tests, and automatic-voluntary control. This is followed by an outline of how these distinctions can be used to integrate and relate the often divergent uses of the implicit-explicit distinction in different research areas. We illustrate this for visual perception, memory, cognitive development, and artificial grammar learning.

Key Words: artificial grammar learning; automaticity; cognitive development; consciousness; implicit knowledge; memory; visual perception.