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Learning at any rate: action–effect learning for stimulus-based actions

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Recent studies reported converging evidence for action–effect associations if participants adopted an intention-based action control mode in free choice conditions, whereas no evidence for action–effect associations was found when participants adopted a stimulus-based mode in forced choice conditions. However, it is not yet clear whether action control modes moderate acquisition or usage of action–effect associations. In the present experiment, two groups of participants underwent an acquisition phase consisting of either free or forced choice key presses that produced irrelevant, but contingent effect tones. In a subsequent test phase, participants freely chose the key to press after former effect tones were presented. A reliable consistency effect resulted for both the groups, i.e. participants preferred the key that produced the irrelevant tone in the preceding acquisition phase. In combination with prior findings, this consistency effect suggests that usage, but not acquisition of action–effect associations depends on an intention-based action control mode.

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  1. Prior implementations of the current experimental design used two independent criteria for participant selection (Elsner & Hommel, 2001, Exp. 3B; Hoffmann et al., 2009, Exp. 2). As first selection criterion, more than 10% erroneous responses in nogo-trials were considered as an indicator of response selection prior to go-signal onset. This behaviour would lead to reduced consistency effects as a prepared response is unlikely to be affected by tones accompanying the go-signal. This tendency was not present in the current data-set (r = 0.12 between the percentage of consistent choices and the number of nogo-errors). As second selection criterion, relative percentages of left and right reactions were compared and participants were excluded from data analysis when the distribution was not considered as even. This procedure is statistically warranted as an uneven distribution of response choices inevitably reduces the chance of finding a consistency effect that might be present in the data. This trend was also present in the current data, indicated by a correlation of r = −0.15 between the relative percentage of consistent key presses and the percentage of the preferred response. However, to obtain a conservative estimate of the consistency effect, we did not exclude any participant in the present study.


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Correspondence to Roland Pfister.

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Pfister, R., Kiesel, A. & Hoffmann, J. Learning at any rate: action–effect learning for stimulus-based actions. Psychological Research 75, 61–65 (2011).

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