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The role of anticipation and intention in the learning of effects of self-performed actions

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The anticipative learning model for acquiring action-effect relations states that the acquisition of action-effect relations depends on processes that are part of action planning, in particular the anticipation of possible effects. Experiment 1 shows that response planning is indeed crucial for the learning of response effects. In this experiment distractors (tones) were presented either during response preparation or in the time interval between response execution and the presentation of a response effect. Response-effect learning was impaired when the distractors were presented during response preparation. The finding is consistent with the assumption that the distractors impaired the anticipation of potential effects and therefore reduced effect learning. In Experiment 2 all responses had two effects. Participants were instructed to produce one of the effects. Under this condition, response-effect learning was only found for the instructed effect, not for the non-instructed effect. The two experiments thus support the view that response-effect learning is selective and depends on the anticipation of potential effects during response planning. The results are discussed in terms of a model that explains both the learning of response-effect relations and the use of these effects for action control within the same theoretical framework.

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The experiments were supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to Peter A. Frensch within the Research Group “Bindung: Funktionale Architektur, neuronale Korrelate und Ontogenese (FOR 448). We thank Britta Bruland for her assistance in performing the experiments and Wilfried Kunde and Jochen Müsseler for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Michael Ziessler.

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Ziessler, M., Nattkemper, D. & Frensch, P.A. The role of anticipation and intention in the learning of effects of self-performed actions. Psychological Research 68, 163–175 (2004).

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