Psychological Research

, Volume 68, Issue 2–3, pp 138–154 | Cite as

Contiguity and contingency in action-effect learning

Original Article


According to the two-stage model of voluntary action, the ability to perform voluntary action is acquired in two sequential steps. Firstly, associations are acquired between representations of movements and of the effects that frequently follow them. Secondly, the anticipation or perception of an acquired action effect primes the movement that has been learnt to produce this effect; the acquired action-effect associations thus mediate the selection of actions that are most appropriate to achieve an intended action goal. If action-effect learning has an associative basis, it should be influenced by factors that are known to affect instrumental learning, such as the temporal contiguity and the probabilistic contingency of movement and effect. In two experiments, the contiguity or the contingency between key presses and subsequent tones was manipulated in various ways. As expected, both factors affected the acquisition of action-effect relations as assessed by the potency of action effects to prime the corresponding action in a later behavioral test. In particular, evidence of action-effect associations was obtained only if the effect of the action was delayed for no more than 1 s, if the effect appeared more often in the presence than in the absence of the action, or if action and effect were entirely uncorrelated but the effect appeared very often. These findings support the assumption that the control of voluntary actions is based on action-effect representations that are acquired by associative learning mechanisms.


  1. Allan, L. G. (1980). A note on measurement of contingency between two binary variables in judgment task. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 15, 147–149.Google Scholar
  2. Allan, L. G. (1993). Human contingency judgments: Rule based or associative? Psychological Bulletin, 114, 435–448.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Allan, L. G. & Jenkins, H. M. (1980). The judgment of contingency and the nature of the response alternatives. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 34, 1–11.Google Scholar
  4. Beckers, T., De Houwer, J., & Eelen, P. (2002). Automatic integration of non-perceptual action effect features: The case of the associative affective Simon effect. Psychological Research/Psychologische Forschung, 66, 166–173.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Brogden, W. J. (1962). Contiguous conditioning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 172–176.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Chatlosh, D. L., Neunaber, D. J., & Wasserman, E. A. (1985). Response-outcome contingency: Behavioral and judgmental effects of appetitive and aversive outcomes with college students. Learning and Motivation, 16, 1–34.Google Scholar
  7. Davey, G. C. L. (1983). An associative view of human classical conditioning. In G. C. L. Davey (Ed.), Animal models of human behavior (pp. 95–114). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Dickinson, A., & Charnock, D. J. (1985). Contingency effects with maintained instrumental reinforcement. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 37B, 397–416.Google Scholar
  9. Dickinson, A., & Shanks, D. R. (1985). Animal conditioning and human causality judgment. In L.-G. Nilsson & T. Archer (Eds.), Perspectives on learning and memory (pp. 167–191). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  10. Einhorn, H. J., & Hogarth, R. M. (1986). Judging probable cause. Psychological Bulletin, 99, 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Elsner, B., & Aschersleben, G. (in press). Do I get what you get? Learning about the effects of self-performed and observed actions in infancy. Consciousness & Cognition.Google Scholar
  12. Elsner, B., & Hommel, B. (2001). Effect anticipation and action control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27, 229–240.Google Scholar
  13. Elsner, B., Hommel, B., Mentschel, C., Drzezga, A., Prinz, W., Conrad, B., & Siebner, H.R. (2002). Linking actions and their perceivable consequences in the human brain. NeuroImage, 17, 364–372.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., & Rizzolatti, G. (1996). Action recognition in the premotor cortex. Brain, 119, 593–609.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gergely, G., & Watson, J. S. (1999). Early social-emotional development: Contingency perception and the social biofeedback model. In P. Rochat (Ed.), Early social cognition (pp. 101–136). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  16. Grice, G. R. (1948). The relation of secondary reinforcement to delayed reward in visual discrimination learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 1–16.Google Scholar
  17. Gruber, H. E., Fink, C. D. & Damm, V. (1957). Effects of experience on perception of causality. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53, 89–93.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Haggard, P., Aschersleben, G., Gehrke, J., & Prinz, W. (2002). Action, binding, and awareness. In Prinz, W., & Hommel, B. (Eds.), Common mechanisms in perception and action: Attention & Performance XIX (pp. 266–285). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hammond, L. J. (1980). The effect of contingency upon the appetitive conditioning of free operant behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 34, 297–304.Google Scholar
  20. Hazeltine, E. (2002). The representational nature of sequence learning: Evidence for goal-based codes. In W. Prinz & B. Hommel (Eds.), Common mechanisms in perception and action: Attention & Performance XIX (pp. 673–689). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hebb, D. O. (1949). The organization of behavior. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  22. Hoffmann, J., Sebald, A., & Stoecker, C. (2001). Irrelevant response effects improve serial learning in serial reaction time tasks. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 27, 470–482.Google Scholar
  23. Hommel, B. (1993). Inverting the Simon effect by intention: Determinants of direction and extent of effects of irrelevant spatial information. Psychological Research, 55, 270–279.Google Scholar
  24. Hommel, B. (1994). Spontaneous decay of response-code activation. Psychological Research, 56, 261–268.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Hommel, B. (1996). The cognitive representation of action: Automatic integration of perceived action effects. Psychological Research, 59, 176–186.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Hommel, B. (1997). Toward an action-concept model of stimulus-response compatibility. In B. Hommel & W. Prinz (Eds.), Theoretical issues in stimulus-response compatibility (pp. 281–320). Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  27. Hommel, B. (1998). Perceiving one’s own action—and what it leads to. In J. S. Jordan (Ed.), Systems theories and a priori aspects of perception (pp. 143–179). Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  28. Hommel, B. (2003a). Acquisition and control of voluntary action. In S. Maasen, W. Prinz & G. Roth (Eds.), Voluntary action: Brains, minds, and sociality (pp. 34–48). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Hommel, B. (2003b). Coloring an action: Intending to produce color events eliminates the Stroop effect. Psychological Research (in press).Google Scholar
  30. Hommel, B., Alonso, D., & Fuentes, L. (2001). Acquisition and generalization of action effects. Talk presented at the 12th Conference of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology. Edinburgh, Scotland, September 2001.Google Scholar
  31. Hume, D. (1739/1964). Treatise of human nature. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  33. Jenkins, H. M., & Ward, W. C. (1965). Judgment of contingency between responses and outcomes. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 79, 1–17.Google Scholar
  34. Kaplan, P. S., & Hearst, E. (1982). Bridging temporal gaps between CS and US in autoshaping: Insertion of other stimuli before, during, and after CS. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 8, 187–203.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kunde, W., Hoffmann, J., & Zellmann, P. (2002). The impact of anticipated action effects on action planning. Acta Psychologica, 109, 137–155.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Meck, W. H. (1985). Postreinforcement signal processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 11, 52–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Murata A., Gallese V., Luppino G., Kaseda M., & Sakata H. (2000). Selectivity for the shape, size, and orientation of objects for grasping in neurons of monkey parietal area AIP. Journal of Neurophysiology, 83, 2580–2601.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  40. Prinz, W. (1997). Perception and action planning. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 9, 129–154.Google Scholar
  41. Reed, P. (1992). Effect of a signaled delay between an action and outcome of human judgement of causality. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 44B, 81–100.Google Scholar
  42. Reed, P. (1999). Role of a stimulus filling an action-outcome delay in human judgments of causal effectiveness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 25, 92–102.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Reed, P., & Reilly, S. (1990). Context extinction following conditioning with delayed reward enhances subsequent instrumental responding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 16, 48–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Rescorla, R. A. (1967). Pavlovian conditioning and its proper control procedures. Psychological Review, 74, 71–80.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Rescorla, R. A. (1982). Effect of a stimulus intervening between CS and US in autoshaping. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 8, 131–141.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Rescorla, R. A. (1992). Response-outcome vs. outcome-response associations in instrumental learning. Animal Learning and Behavior, 20, 223–232.Google Scholar
  47. Rochat, P. (1998). Self-perception and action in infancy. Experimental Brain Research, 123, 102–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Seggie, J. (1975). The empirical observation of the Piagetian concept of correlation. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 29, 32–42.Google Scholar
  49. Seligman, M. E. P., Maier, S. F., & Solomon, R. L. (1971). Unpredictable and uncontrollable aversive events. In F. R. Brush (Ed.), Aversive conditioning and learning (pp. 347–400). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  50. Shaklee, H., & Mims, M. (1982). Sources of error in judging event covariations: Effects of memory demands. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 8, 208–224.Google Scholar
  51. Shaklee, H., & Wasserman, E. A. (1986). Judging interevent contingencies: Being right for the wrong causes. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 24, 91–94.Google Scholar
  52. Shaklee, H., Holt, P., Elek S., & Hall, L. (1988). Covariation judgment: Improving rule use among children, adolescents, and adults. Child Development, 59, 755–768.Google Scholar
  53. Shanks, D. R. (1989). Selectional processes in causality judgment. Memory and Cognition, 17, 27–34.Google Scholar
  54. Shanks, D. R. (1993). Human instrumental learning: A critical review of data and theory. British Journal of Psychology, 84, 319–354.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Shanks, D. R., & Dickinson, A. (1987). Associative accounts of causality judgment. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 21, 229–261.Google Scholar
  56. Shanks, D. R., & Dickinson, A. (1991). Instrumental judgment and performance under variations in action-outcome contingency and contiguity. Memory and Cognition, 19, 353–360.Google Scholar
  57. Shanks, D. R., Pearson, S. M., & Dickinson, A. (1989). Temporal contiguity and the judgment of causality by human subjects. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 41B, 139–159.Google Scholar
  58. Simon, J. R., & Rudell, A. P. (1967). Auditory S-R compatibility: The effect of an irrelevant cue on information processing. Journal of Applied Psychology, 51, 300–304.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Stock, A., & Hoffmann, J. (2002). Intentional fixation of behavioural learning, or how R-O learning blocks S-R learning. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 14, 127–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stoet, G., & Hommel, B. (1999). Action planning and the temporal binding of response codes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25, 1625–1640.Google Scholar
  61. Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. American Journal of Psychology, 39, 212–222.Google Scholar
  62. Tolman, E. C., Hall, C. S., & Bretnall, E. P. (1932). A disproof of the law of effect and a substitution of the laws of emphasis, motivation and disruption. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 15, 601–614.Google Scholar
  63. Trapold, M. A. (1970). Are expectancies based upon different reinforcing events discriminably different? Learning and Motivation, 1, 129–140.Google Scholar
  64. Urcuioli, P. J., & DeMarse, T. (1996). Associative processes in differential outcome discriminations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 22, 192–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Waldmann, M. R., & Holyoak, K. J. (1992). Predictive and diagnostic learning within causal models: Asymmetries in cue competition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 121, 222–236.Google Scholar
  66. Walker, E. L. (1969). Reinforcement—”The one ring.” In J. T. Tapp (Ed.), Reinforcement and behavior (pp. 47–62). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  67. Wasserman, E. A. (1990). Detecting response-outcome relations: Toward an understanding of the causal texture of the environment. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 26, 27–82.Google Scholar
  68. Wasserman, E. A., & Miller, R. R. (1997). What’s elementary about associative learning? Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 573–607.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Wasserman, E. A., & Shaklee, H. (1984). Judging response-outcome relations: The role of response-outcome contingency, outcome probability, and method of information presentation. Memory and Cognition, 12, 270–286.Google Scholar
  70. Young, M. E. (1995). On the origin of personal causal theories. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2, 83–104.Google Scholar
  71. Ziessler, M. (1998). Response-effect learning as a major component of implicit serial learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 24, 962–978.Google Scholar
  72. Ziessler, M., & Nattkemper, D. (2001). Learning of event sequences is based on response-effect learning: Further evidence from a serial reaction task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 27, 595–613.Google Scholar
  73. Ziessler, M., & Nattkemper, D. (2002). Effect anticipation in action planning. In W. Prinz & B. Hommel (Eds.), Common mechanisms in perception and action: Attention & Performance XIX (pp. 645–672). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognition and ActionMax Planck Institute for Psychological ResearchMunichGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  3. 3.Cognitive Psychology UnitLeiden UniversityThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations