Learning on the IGT follows emergence of knowledge but not differential somatic activity

Gordon Fernie*, Richard J. Tunney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The importance of unconscious autonomic activity vs. knowledge in influencing behavior on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) has been the subject of debate. The task's developers, Bechara and colleagues, have claimed that behavior on the IGT is influenced by somatic activity and that this activity precedes the emergence of knowledge about the task contingencies sufficient to guide behavior. Since then others have claimed that this knowledge emerges much earlier on the task. However, it has yet to be established whether somatic activity which differentiates between advantageous and disadvantageous choices on the IGT is found before this point. This study describes an experiment to determine whether knowledge sufficient to guide behavior precedes differential autonomic activity or vice versa. This experiment used a computerized version of the IGT, knowledge probes after every 10 trials and skin conductance recording to measure somatic activity. Whereas in previous reports the majority of participants end the task with full conceptual knowledge of the IGT contingencies we found little evidence in support of this conclusion. However, full conceptual knowledge was not critical for advantageous deck selection to occur and most participants had knowledge sufficient to guide behavior after approximately 40 trials. We did not find anticipatory physiological activity sufficient to differentiate between deck types in the period prior to acquiring this knowledge. However, post-punishment physiological activity was found to be larger for the disadvantageous decks in the pre-knowledge period, but only for participants who displayed knowledge. Post-reward physiological activity distinguished between the advantageous and disadvantageous decks across the whole experiment but, again, only in participants who displayed knowledge and then only in later trials following their display of knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number687
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberOCT
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 Fernie and Tunney. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Conscious knowledge
  • Implicit learning
  • Iowa gambling task
  • Reward learning
  • Somatic marker
  • Somatic marker hypothesis


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