The Interaction of Implicit versus Explicit Processing and Problem Difficulty in a Scientific Discovery Task

Corinne Zimmerman, Illinois State University
Jean E. Pretz, Elizabethtown College


The present study examined implicit and explicit approaches to problem solving with a simulated scientific discovery task that involved induction of a rule involving the balance of forces. Strategy (implicit or explicit) and problem difficulty were manipulated, and their interaction was observed in three experiments. The explicit, rule-seeking strategy led to rule induction among some participants. Among nondiscoverers, participants in the implicit condition were faster and more accurate on the most difficult problems than those using the explicit approach. The use of nondiagnostic exemplars led to fixation on inappropriate hypotheses for explicit but not implicit participants. When diagnostic learning exemplars were used, more participants discovered the correct rule, but explicit nondiscoverers still performed worse than implicit participants on the most difficult problems. In two experiments, an implicit approach led to better posttest performance than an explicit approach, suggesting that implicit processing allows the expression of passively acquired knowledge.