Does implicit motor learning lead to greater automatization of motor skills compared to explicit motor learning? A systematic review

Elmar Kal*, Rens Prosée, Marinus Winters, John Van Der Kamp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview article


Background Implicit motor learning is considered to be particularly effective for learning sports-related motor skills. It should foster movement automaticity and thereby facilitate performance in multitasking and high-pressure environments. To scrutinize this hypothesis, we systematically reviewed all studies that compared the degree of automatization achieved (as indicated by dual-task performance) after implicit compared to explicit interventions for sports-related motor tasks. Methods For this systematic review (CRD42016038249) conventional (MEDLINE, CENTRAL, Embase, PsycINFO, SportDiscus, Web of Science) and grey literature were searched. Two reviewers independently screened reports, extracted data, and performed risk of bias assessment. Implicit interventions of interest were analogy-, errorless-, dual-task-, and external focus learning. Data analysis involved descriptive synthesis of group comparisons on absolute motor dual-task (DT) performance, and motor DT performance relative to single-task motor performance (motor DTCs). Results Of the 4125 reports identified, we included 25 controlled trials that described 39 implicit-explicit group comparisons. Risk of bias was unclear across trials. Most comparisons did not show group differences. Some comparisons showed superior absolute motor DT performance (N = 2), superior motor DTCs (N = 4), or both (N = 3) for the implicit compared to the explicit group. The explicit group showed superior absolute motor DT performance in two comparisons. Conclusions Most comparisons did not show group differences in automaticity. The remaining comparisons leaned more toward a greater degree of movement automaticity after implicit learning than explicit learning. However, due to an overall unclear risk of bias the strength of the evidence is level 3. Motor learning-specific guidelines for design and especially reporting are warranted to further strengthen the evidence and facilitate low-risk-of-bias trials.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0203591
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sep 2018


Cite this