Insight Without Awareness: On the Interaction of Verbalization, Instruction and Practice in a Simulated Process Control Task

William B. Stanley, Robert C. Mathews, Ray Buss, Susan Kotler-Cope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

131 Scopus citations


Four experiments in which subjects learned to control two versions of a complex simulated process control task show that verbalizable knowledge of procedures used to perform these tasks is very limited and is acquired late in learning. Individual learning curves associated with these tasks showed sudden improvements in performance, which were not accompanied by a similar increase in verbalizable knowledge. It was also found that verbal instructions consisting of exemplar memorization, strategies for rule induction, simple heuristics, and experts' instructions were all effective in enhancing novice subjects' performance. A theoretical framework is proposed in which subjects draw on two separate but interacting knowledge structures to perform these tasks. One knowledge structure is based on memory for past experiences (close analogies), and the other is based on one’s current mental model of the task. Implicit sets of competing rules that control response selection are derived from both sources of knowledge. It is suggested that dissociations between task performance and verbalizing occur because memory–based processing tends to have more control over response selection because of its greater specificity, whereas a mental model tends to be the preferred mode for verbal reporting because of its greater accessibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-577
Number of pages25
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 1989
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Cite this