Intentional fixation of behavioural learning, or how R–O learning blocks S–R learning

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Four experiments deal with the acquisition of knowledge for the control of voluntary behaviour. Subjects had to accomplish a computer-controlled learning task that required them to learn which one of four actions (R) had to be performed in order to attain a certain one of four outcomes (O) in the presence of one of four situational contexts (S). Reinforcements were assigned to actions according to two schedules: In the S–R condition each of the four actions was consistently reinforced in the presence of a certain situation, whereas in the R–O condition each of the actions was either always (Experiments 1–3) or mostly (Experiment 4) reinforced if a certain outcome was required. Furthermore, the type of feedback was varied. In Experiment 1, only positive or negative reinforcements were fed back, whereas in Experiments 2–4 the actions resulted in outcomes that had to be compared with the required outcomes in order to determine successes and failures. The results indicate a preference for learning R–O contingencies over learning S–R contingencies. Most subjects were so fixated on learning R–O relations that they remained completely blind to the consistent reinforcement of S–R mappings. The data suggest that, in line with the ideomotor principle, the acquisition of behavioural competence is based primarily on the formation of bidirectional action–outcome relations. Specifications of the underlying learning mechanisms are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2002

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