Contingency is used to prepare for outcomes: Implications for a functional analysis of learning

Abstract

It is generally assumed that the function of contingency learning is to predict the occurrence of important events in order to prepare for them. This assumption, however, has scarcely been tested. Moreover, the little evidence that is available suggests just the opposite result. People do not use contingency to prepare for outcomes, nor to predict their occurrence, although they do use it to infer the causal and predictive value of cues. By using both judgmental and behavioral data, we designed the present experiments as a further test for this assumption. The results show that—at least under certain conditions—people do use contingency to prepare for outcomes, even though they would still not use it to predict their occurrence. The functional and adaptive aspects of these results are discussed in the present article.

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Correspondence to Helena Matute.

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Support for the present research was provided by Grant SEJ2007-63691/ PSIC from Dirección General de Investigación of the Spanish Government, Grant PI2008-9 from Departamento de Educación, Universidades e Investigación of the Basque Government, and Grant P08-SEJ-3586 from Junta de Andalucía. F.B. was supported by fellowships BFI081.020.0 and BFI04.484 from the Basque Government. He is now at the University of Leuven, Belgium.

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Blanco, F., Matute, H. & Vadillo, M.A. Contingency is used to prepare for outcomes: Implications for a functional analysis of learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 17, 117–121 (2010). https://doi.org/10.3758/PBR.17.1.117

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Keywords

  • Skin Rash
  • Pavlovian Conditioning
  • Nonhuman Animal
  • Contingency Learning
  • Causal Judgment