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Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: A case for animal-human translational models



Associative accounts of goal-directed action, developed in the fields of human ideomotor action and that of animal learning, can capture cognitive belief-desire psychology of human decision-making. Whereas outcome-response accounts can account for the fact that the thought of a goal can call to mind the action that has previously procured this goal, response-outcome accounts capture decision-making processes that start out with the consideration of possible response alternatives followed only in the second instance by evaluation of their consequences. We argue that while the outcome-response mechanism plays a crucial role in response priming effects, the response-outcome mechanism is particularly important for action selection on the basis of current needs and desires. We therefore develop an integrative account that encapsulates these two routes of action selection within the framework of the associative-cybernetic model. This model has the additional benefit of providing mechanisms for the incentive modulation of goal-directed action and for the development of behavioural autonomy, and therefore provides a promising account of the multi-faceted process of animal as well as human instrumental decision-making.
Psychological Research
DOI 10.1007/s00426-009-0230-6
Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour:
a case for animal–human translational models
Sanne de Wit · Anthony Dickinson
Received: 27 November 2008 / Accepted: 2 March 2009
© The Author(s) 2009. This article is published with open access at
Abstract Associative accounts of goal-directed action,
developed in the Welds of human ideomotor action and that
of animal learning, can capture cognitive belief-desire psy-
chology of human decision-making. Whereas outcome-
response accounts can account for the fact that the thought
of a goal can call to mind the action that has previously pro-
cured this goal, response-outcome accounts capture deci-
sion-making processes that start out with the consideration
of possible response alternatives followed only in the sec-
ond instance by evaluation of their consequences. We argue
that while the outcome-response mechanism plays a crucial
role in response priming eVects, the response-outcome
mechanism is particularly important for action selection on
the basis of current needs and desires. We therefore develop
an integrative account that encapsulates these two routes of
action selection within the framework of the associative-
cybernetic model. This model has the additional beneWt of
providing mechanisms for the incentive modulation of
goal-directed action and for the development of behav-
ioural autonomy, and therefore provides a promising
account of the multi-faceted process of animal as well as
human instrumental decision-making.
According to folk psychology, intentional, goal-directed
actions are performed when an agent desires the goal and
believes that the behaviour in question will achieve the goal.
Consider the example of going to the local market to buy
Xowers. This goal-directed action is performed because of
the desire to get Xowers and the belief that going to the mar-
ket will achieve this outcome. This intuitive notion of goal-
directed action has been captured by cognitive ‘belief-desire
psychology, according to which the intention to act is pro-
duced by an interaction of a belief about the causal relation
between action and outcome with the value of, or current
desire for, the outcome. Such an account is to be found in one
form or another in action theory in human motivation, expec-
tancy-value theory and the theory of rational action or
planned behaviour in social psychology, and belief-desire
psychology in the philosophy of mind (Greve, 2001), and
indeed Heyes and Dickinson (1990) have argued for a belief-
desire cognitive account of animal instrumental action.
Although goal-directed and planned action has been the
focus of much high-level computation theorising in human
cognitive psychology (Anderson et al., 2004; Daw, Niv, &
Dayan, 2005; Newell, 1990) the predominant cognitive par-
adigms have traditionally employed instructed stimulus-
response tasks (e.g. Stroop task, Simon task, Xanker task)
to study direct behavioural control. While these tasks
have furthered our understanding of decision-making, they
certainly do not capture the fact that most of our
daily decisions involve choosing actions on the basis of
their consequences rather than performing according to
instructed stimulus-response mappings. The two research
Welds that have always recognised the importance of instru-
mental relationships between our actions and their conse-
quences in behavioural control are those of (1) human
S. de Wit (&)
Department of Psychology,
Amsterdam Center for the Study of Adaptive Control in Brain
and Behavior (Acacia), University of Amsterdam,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
A. Dickinson
Department of Experimental Psychology,
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Psychological Research
ideomotor action and (2) animal learning. In this review,
we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of accounts of
goal-directed action derived from these research Welds
before developing an integrated associative model of goal-
directed and habitual behaviour.
Goal-directed behaviour
A prerequisite for an action to be considered goal-directed
is that it is instrumental. Instrumental actions are character-
ised by two properties. First of all, instrumental actions are
learned. Second, the action has to be controlled by the
causal relationship between the action or response (R) and
its consequences or outcome (O), rather than being con-
trolled by predictive relationships between environmental
stimuli (S) and the outcome. Predictive S-O learning in ani-
mals is usually studied in Pavlovian conditioning proce-
dures (Pavlov, 1927) in which a new response is acquired
to a stimulus that predicts the occurrence of a biologically
signiWcant outcome. There are two important points to make
about the distinction between instrumental and Pavlovian
learning. First, although Pavlovian responses are usually
biological adaptive within the ecological environment in
which they evolved, such behaviour can be maladaptive
when the animal is faced with new contingencies. Second, it
is not always transparent which of these two types of learn-
ing underlies the acquisition of a new response.
These two points are succinctly illustrated by an experi-
ment in which Hershberger (1986) fed chicks from a distinc-
tive food bowl. When they were subsequently displaced
from the food bowl, the chicks rapidly learned to approach
it. Although the obvious account of this behaviour is that the
birds learned that the approach response yielded food,
Hershberger demonstrated that this was not the case by plac-
ing another group of chicks in a “looking-glass world”. In
this world the food bowl receded from the chicks twice as
fast as they approached it, so that they could never feed by
approaching the food bowl. If chicks’ locomotion in this sit-
uation were instrumental, they should have had no problem
in extinguishing any approach tendency and learning the
withdrawal response. However, this they never did, suggest-
ing that their locomotion was not under the control of the
instrumental response-outcome (R-O) relationship. Rather
their approach behaviour appears to have been controlled by
the predictive stimulus-outcome (S-O) relationship so that
the sight of the bowl elicited approach as a Pavlovian condi-
tioned response. This is not to say that animals are incapable
of true instrumental action that is under the control of the
causal R-O relationship. There is good evidence, for
example, that the action of pressing a lever by rats is directly
controlled by its consequences (Dickinson, Campos, Varga,
& Balleine, 1996). In contrast, the instrumental status of
human responses is rarely examined experimentally as they
are usually arbitrary and instructed (Pithers, 1985).
Once we have established that behaviour is instrumental,
it still needs to meet two additional criteria to be considered
intentional in the sense of goal-directed, as opposed to
automatic or habitual: the belief criterion and the desire
criterion (Heyes & Dickinson, 1990).
Belief criterion
The purpose of the belief criterion is to capture the idea that
if a behaviour is goal-directed it must be based upon knowl-
edge of the relationship between the action and its conse-
quences, because in the absence of such knowledge it is not
clear how the action could be ‘directed’ to its consequences
as a ‘goal’. In other words, goal-directed actions are con-
trolled by a belief that the action will cause the goal. In
associative terms, behaviour is mediated by a representa-
tion of the R-O relationship. The belief criterion excludes
another class of instrumental responses that are not medi-
ated by anticipation of the goal, but instead are directly
primed by contextual stimuli through S!R associations.
It is usually assumed that these habitual responses are
acquired according to Thorndike’s Law of EVect (1911),
which states that the experience of reward following a
response leads to the strengthening of an association
between the context and the response, so that on future
occasions, the context can directly prime the response
through the S!R association. To be qualiWed as a goal-
directed agent, it is therefore not suYcient that one is
sensitive to the eVect of one’s actions on the world, but
additionally a representation of the causal R-O relationship
needs to mediate performance. Finally, we argue that in
addition it is crucial that a motivational criterion is met.
Desire criterion
According to the desire criterion, goal-directed actions are
controlled by the aVective or motivational value of the out-
come at the time that the action is performed, or in other
words, the action is only executed when the expected conse-
quences are currently desired and therefore have the status of
a goal. In order to establish whether actions meet the belief
criterion as well as the desire criterion, researchers in the Weld
of animal learning have developed the
outcome revaluation
paradigm. The basic idea behind this paradigm is that a
change in the incentive value of an outcome should only
directly inXuence the propensity to perform a previously
acquired action if (1) the agent possesses knowledge of the
instrumental contingency between the action and the outcome
(belief criterion) and (2) the agent can evaluate the outcome in
light of its current needs and desires and use this evaluation to
decide whether to perform the action or not (desire criterion).
Psychological Research
In a typical outcome revaluation procedure, rats are Wrst
trained to perform an action to gain a certain food outcome.
Following this instrumental training, the value of this
outcome is reduced in the absence of the opportunity to
perform the instrumental action, either by establishing a
speciWc food aversion by pairing the consumption of food
with the induction of nausea (Garcia, Kimeldorf, & Koel-
ling, 1955) or by unlimited feeding the animal to induce
speciWc satiety for this food (Balleine & Dickinson, 1998a,
1998b). Subsequently animals are given the opportunity to
perform the instrumental action again. If the behaviour is
directly controlled by the current goal value of the out-
come, the animals should immediately respond less for the
now devalued outcome. Note that in order to ensure that
performance reXects employment of R-O knowledge
acquired during the instrumental training, it is paramount to
conduct this test in extinction and therefore in the absence
of outcome deliveries. If the devalued outcomes were to be
delivered contingent upon responding in the test phase,
then any decline in responding could well be due to a grad-
ual weakening or inhibition of direct S!R associations
between the context and the instrumental response through
a punishment mechanism of the type envisaged by Thorn-
dike in his Law of EVect (1911). While the Law of EVect
can account for the gradual decline in performance of an
action that is no longer followed by a desirable outcome, it
would not predict immediate sensitivity to outcome devalu-
ation in the absence of further experience with the instru-
mental contingency.
To give an example of an outcome revaluation study,
Adams and Dickinson (1981) trained rats to lever press for
one type of food pellet while delivering a second type inde-
pendently of responding. Following devaluation of either
the response-contingent or non-contingent outcome
through aversion conditioning, lever pressing was tested in
extinction. In this test, the animals pressed less following
devaluation of the response-contingent rather than the non-
contingent outcome, thereby demonstrating that the rats had
acquired knowledge of the R-O contingency during instru-
mental training, and that their instrumental behaviour was
sensitive to the current desirability of the outcome. This
instrumental outcome devaluation eVect has been exten-
sively replicated using both aversion conditioning and
speciWc satiety to devalue the outcome (e.g. Colwill &
Rescorla, 1985).
Cognitive neuroscientists have so far made only limited
use of the outcome revaluation paradigm to assess whether
human actions meet the desire criterion for goal-directed
action, but it seems clear that in everyday life we often act
in a goal-directed manner when the incentive value of out-
comes of our actions change. For instance, while an ice
cream from the ice cream van may be appealing most of the
time, it is certainly less attractive if one has just enjoyed a
bountiful ice cream desert. In cases like this, we may
directly decide against pursuing the additional icecream,
rather than having to rely on the gradual weakening of
S!R associations. Although the ability to behave in a
goal-directed manner appears to be crucial for human deci-
sion-making, to the best of our knowledge, only four stud-
ies so far have employed the outcome revaluation paradigm
to investigate this ability directly in humans. Valentin,
Dickinson, and O’Doherty (2007) showed that human vol-
unteers reduced responding that had been trained with a liq-
uid reward (tomato juice, chocolate milk or orange juice)
when they had just consumed this food to satiety. In
another study, the goal-directed status of adult instrumental
performance was demonstrated through “instructed devalu-
ation” (de Wit, Niry, Wariyar, Aitken, & Dickinson, 2007).
In the latter study, during the preceding instrumental train-
ing, participants pressed keys to gain fruit icons and points
on a computer screen. For example, right key presses were
rewarded with a picture of an apple and points, whereas left
key presses were rewarded with a picture of a pear and
points. During the subsequent extinction test phase subjects
were asked to gain certain fruit pictures but not others. For
example, participants were informed that the apple would
no longer earn them any points while the pear was still
valuable. Participants were able to select the action trained
with the apple outcome more than that trained with the pear
outcome, thereby demonstrating that they had acquired
knowledge about the R-O contingencies during training and
could modulate their performance in accordance with the
instructed values of the outcomes (de Wit et al., 2007).
Of course, the ability of adults to select an action on the
basis of the current incentive value of its expected outcome
hardly needs experimental demonstration (even if the process
by which they do so remains undetermined). What is less
clear, however, is the developmental trajectory of the capac-
ity for goal-directed action. Although it is well known that
infants are capable of instrumental learning (Rovee-Collier,
1983), what is less clear is whether the resulting actions are
goal-directed rather than simply habitual. To address this
issue, Klossek, Russell, and Dickinson (2008) taught chil-
dren to perform two diVerent actions in order to view video-
clips from diVerent cartoons series (Pingu vs. teletubbies),
before assessing whether their performance was goal-
directed by devaluing one of the cartoons through repetitive
presentation. When children older than 2 years were once
again allowed to choose between the two actions in an
extinction test, they consistently performed the action trained
with the still-valued cartoon more than that trained with the
now-devalued cartoon, a result that was replicated in another
scenario by Kenward, Folke, Holmberg, Johansson, and
Gredeback (2009). Therefore, the instrumental behaviour of
humans can from an early age meet the belief criterion as
well as the desire criterion of goal-directed action.
Psychological Research
In summary, the conception of goal-directed action pre-
sented here includes three main ideas: goal-directed actions
are instrumental, they are controlled by a representation of
the R-O relationship, and they are sensitive to the current
incentive value of an outcome. We thereby exclude many
of the behaviours that are typically referred to as goal-
directed in the Weld of cognitive psychology. First of all,
this deWnition excludes behaviours that are completely
controlled by Pavlovian contingencies. Students of goal-
directed action under our deWnition are therefore well-
advised to avoid target-directed measures as the dependent
variable such as food approach, grasping of targets or eye-
movement towards reward, as Pavlovian inXuences are
likely to be a major determinant of these behaviours.
ondly, goal-directed actions need to meet the belief crite-
rion and the desire criterion. This deWnition therefore
excludes behaviours that are under direct control by exter-
nal stimuli, and S-R tasks are therefore not suitable for the
study of goal-directed action. For example, the response of
saying ‘green’ when confronted by the word “green
printed in blue in the Stroop Task, or pressing a button
in response to an arrow on the screen in a Xanker task,
appear to be predominantly controlled by instructed S!R
Outcome-response (O-R) theory
Folk psychology suggests that the thought of a goal pre-
cedes the decision to perform the action that leads to it. For
example, the thought of an ice cream may inspire a trip to
the ice cream van. The idea that action planning starts with
imagining the consequences of the action has been captured
in the ideomotor account of human intentional action,
which was developed mainly in the nineteenth century
(Carpenter, 1852; Herbart, 1825; James, 1890; Lotze, 1852;
Stock & Stock, 2004) and is still endorsed by many
researchers in the Weld of human cognition (Hommel, 2003;
Hommel, Musseler, Aschersleben, & Prinz, 2001). Accord-
ing to James (1890), experiencing a contingency between
an action and its outcome (or eVect) produces an associa-
tion between the motor programme for the action and a rep-
resentation of the outcome, so that on future occasions
activating the outcome representation directly excites the
action programme. Although ideomotorists have mainly
studied associations between movements and their immedi-
ate sensory consequences, similar associative accounts
have been developed in the Weld of animal learning to
account for goal-directed action (Asratyan, 1974; Gormezano
& Tait, 1976; Pavlov, 1932). We will refer to the ideomotor
account as well as related associative accounts as outcome-
response (O-R) theory, because the basic premise is that
goal-directed actions are mediated by O!R associations.
In the following section, we will focus on the experimental
paradigms that have provided support for the prediction of
O-R theory that actions can be triggered by experiencing
the consequences of these actions directly or even by mere
anticipation of the consequences.
O-R theory and the belief criterion
If instrumental learning establishes O!R associations,
which can then be used to guide action selection, presenting
the outcome should immediately prime the associated
action. Addictive drugs appear to be particularly potent
(O!R) primers of drug craving and drug seeking. For
example, Chutuape, Mitchell, and de Wit (1994) found that
consumption of an alcoholic drink not only enhanced the
craving for alcohol but also the propensity to seek the drug,
and response priming by such outcomes has received
extensive empirical investigation in animals (see for a
review, Stewart & de Wit, 1987). However, purely sensory
outcomes are also capable of priming their associated
responses. In the R-O pre-training stage of Meck’s experi-
ment (1985), rats were presented with two levers. While a
common food reward could be obtained after pressing both
levers, each lever was also paired with a speciWc sensory
post-reinforcement cue, either a noise or a light signal.
After substantial training on this schedule, the rats were
transferred to a procedure in which the noise and the light
preceded the opportunity to lever press. For half of the
rats (congruent group), each stimulus signalled that the
response that had previously earned this reward during the
R-O pre-training would be rewarded. For instance, when a
tone was presented, the animals had to press the lever pre-
viously associated with the tone outcome, whereas when a
light was presented, they had to press the lever associated
with the light outcome. These contingencies were reversed
for the remaining animals (incongruent group) in such a
way that the animals had to learn to make the opposite
response. Here, a tone signalled that the lever that was pre-
viously associated with the light outcome would lead to a
reward and vice versa. If R-O training had established
O!R connections between the outcome cues (i.e. the light
and the tone) and their respective responses, the congruent
group should acquire the discrimination more rapidly than
the incongruent group. This prediction of O-R theory was
More recently, similar results were obtained in humans.
For example, Elsner and Hommel (2001) demonstrated out-
come-mediated response priming in humans. In the R-O
pre-training stage, participants were instructed to press
either a right or a left key as quickly as possible on appearance
For models of target-directed movements see, for example, Wolpert
and Ghahramani (2000).
Psychological Research
of a white rectangle. Each key press triggered either a high
or a low tone, for example, right key presses (R
) were fol-
lowed by a high tone (T
) and left key presses (R
) by a low
tone (T
). According to O-R theory, this pre-training should
have established T
and T
associations. In the
test phase, trials started with the presentation of one of the
tones and the participants were instructed to press either the
left or the right key as quickly and as spontaneously as pos-
sible. Right key presses following the high tone and left key
presses following the low tone were counted as congruent
choices, whereas the opposite choices were counted as
incongruent. The prediction of O-R theory that the partici-
pants should make more congruent than incongruent
choices was again born out by the results.
The response priming eVect has not only been shown
with tones as outcomes (Elsner & Hommel, 2001, 2004)
but also with a variety of other sensory outcomes (Ansorge,
2002; Hommel, 1993, 1996; Ziessler, 1998; Ziessler &
Nattkemper, 2001, 2002). Moreover, Beckers, De Houwer,
and Eelen (2002) showed that the emotional valence of out-
comes can prime responses through O!R associations. In
their study, responses associated with shock outcomes were
executed faster following negative target words than
neutral responses, and relatively slowly following positive
target words. Finally, Elsner and Hommel (2004) demon-
strated that the two major parameters controlling animal
instrumental learning, R-O contiguity and R-O contin-
gency, also inXuence the priming eVect as would be pre-
dicted by associative theory.
In summary, there is a wealth of evidence for outcome-
mediated response priming in adult humans. Moreover, O-
R learning has been demonstrated early in infancy. If
babies are given the opportunity to learn that moving their
legs activates a mobile, then later presentations of the mov-
ing mobile will cause them to move their legs (Fagen &
Rovee, 1976; Fagen, Rovee, & Kaplan, 1976), suggesting
that the ability to form O!R associations develops early in
However, although response priming by outcomes pro-
vides evidence for the formation of O!R associations, this
eVect by itself does not support the contention of O-R the-
ory that the mere thought of a goal can prime actions
through these associations. In daily life most goal-directed
actions do of course not result from direct perception of the
goal. For example, the sound of the bell of the ice cream
van on a sunny afternoon makes us think of an ice cream
which in turn makes us think of the action that has yielded
ice cream in the past, namely to approach the van and buy
an ice cream. In associative terms, the bell activates the ice
cream representation through a (Pavlovian) S!O associa-
tion, which in turn activates the response representation
of buying the ice cream through an (instrumental) O!R
Of course, in daily life, S-O and O-R learning as well as
S-R learning occur concurrently in complex, dynamic inter-
actions so that the contribution of each learning process to
performance cannot be isolated. However, many years ago
animal learning researchers have developed the so-called
Pavlovian-to-Instrumental transfer paradigm (PIT) to dem-
onstrate the separate contributions of S-O and O-R learning
to the control of instrumental performance (Estes, 1943,
1948). With this task it has been shown that a purely Pav-
lovian stimulus can prime performance of an instrumental
response that was separately paired with the same outcome
as the Pavlovian stimulus (Baxter & Zamble, 1982;
Blundell, Hall, & Killcross, 2001; Colwill & Motzkin, 1994;
Colwill & Rescorla, 1988; Corbit, Janak, & Balleine, 2007;
Holland, 2004; Kruse, Overmier, Konz, & Rokke, 1983;
Rescorla, 1994). As the Pavlovian stimulus and instrumen-
tal response were never trained together, this eVect has to
be mediated by an intervening representation of the com-
mon outcome rather than being mediated by direct S!R
associations. The PIT procedure is illustrated by an experi-
ment of Colwill and Motzkin (1994) in which rats Wrst
received Pavlovian S-O training during which, for example,
a light signalled the delivery of food pellets and a noise pre-
dicted access to sucrose solution. In a separate instrumental
training phase, the same rats were trained to lever press for
food pellets and chain pull for sucrose solution in the
absence of the light and the noise. Finally, in an extinction
test the rats were given access to both response manipu-
landa. This test yielded outcome-speciWc PIT in that the
stimuli caused the rats to make the response associated with
the signalled outcome. During the noise the rats chain-
pulled more than they pressed the lever and vice versa.
These results suggest that presentation of the noise (or the
light) triggered the representation of the food pellets (or the
sucrose solution) that in turn led the rats to press the corre-
sponding lever, thereby demonstrating the role of an
S!O!R associative chain in the control of responding.
It seems intuitively appealing that humans, like rats,
select actions via S!O!R associative chains, and in fact
PIT eVects have been argued to play a crucial role in drug
seeking behaviour (Ludwig, Wikler, Stark, & Lexington,
1974). Moreover, the logic behind marketing is that adver-
tisements remind consumers of the product in question,
which in turn should prime the action of purchasing it. Over
the last few years, the PIT and associated paradigms have
been increasingly used to demonstrate the eVect of this
route to action selection in humans (Bray, Rangel, Shimojo,
Balleine, & O’Doherty, 2008; Hogarth, Dickinson, Wright,
Kouvaraki, & Duka, 2007; Talmi, Seymour, Dayan, &
Dolan, 2008). For example, Hogarth et al. (2007) showed
that in the presence of a stimulus associated with cigarettes
addicted smokers were more likely to perform actions
trained with cigarettes than those trained with money, with
Psychological Research
the reversed pattern of performance evident when the stim-
ulus associated with money was presented. Similarly, Bray
et al. (2008) reported that Pavlovian cues for natural
rewards (chocolate milk, a soft drink and orange juice)
would preferentially enhance performance of responses that
previously yielded these rewards during a separate instru-
mental training phase.
In summary, a prerequisite for goal-directed action is
that the agent possesses knowledge of the instrumental R-O
contingency. Evidence that animal and human behaviour is
sensitive to both direct response priming by outcomes and
indirect priming by cues for outcomes suggests that O-R
theory provides a viable account of instrumental learning.
In the next section, we will address the question whether
this account can also capture the desire criterion of goal-
directed action, namely, that actions are sensitive to the
current motivational value of their outcomes.
O-R theory and the desire criterion
Ideomotor theory and associative O-R theory provide a via-
ble account of the acquisition and deployment of instru-
mental knowledge in a way that fulWls the belief criterion of
goal-directed action. The question remains, however,
whether O-R accounts can explain behaviour that is sensi-
tive to the current motivational value of an outcome—in
accordance with the desire criterion—and can thus be con-
sidered a suYcient account of goal-directed actions in the
strict sense. In fact, as noted earlier, most ideomotor
research has focused on response priming by sensory
events that did not serve as goals for the participants.
Indeed, some authors have even interpreted ideomotor the-
ory as strictly referring to associations between motor
movements of the body and the perceivable motor eVects
(Kunde, Koch, & HoVmann, 2004; but see Hommel, 2003).
Accordingly, to date O-R theory does not provide a mecha-
nism through which the motivational value of the outcome
inXuences action planning.
The O-R approach could, however, easily be modiWed to
account for such a sensitivity to aVective value by incorpo-
rating the additional assumption that the extent to which the
outcome mediates response activation through the O!R
association depends on the current value of the outcome. Or
in other words, ‘a Wat that the action’s consequences
become actual intervenes’ when actions are selected via the
ideomotor mechanism (James, 1890). The sensitivity of the
outcome representation to input excitation, and hence its
ability to activate the associated response, could be modu-
lated by the relevance of the outcome to the agent’s current
motivational state. For example, the ability of choices on a
menu to excite strong or vivid thoughts of the actual meal,
may well depend upon how hungry one is, and this may
determine to what extent the response of ordering an option
is activated through the S!O!R associative chain. From
a purely theoretical perspective, therefore, it is possible for
O-R theory to provide an account of the goal-directed
nature of instrumental actions. However, there is an empiri-
cal evidence from animal research that speaks against such
a possibility.
A potential problem for O-R accounts of goal-directed
action is that outcome-speciWc PIT appears to be insensitive
to the current value of the outcome. Earlier we argued that
PIT provides evidence for an O-R account because the
separate establishment of S!O and O!R associations
enables the Pavlovian stimulus to activate the response
associated with the common outcome even though the stim-
ulus and response have never been trained together. There-
fore, instrumental responses can be triggered through an
S!O!R associative chain. The Wnding that speaks
against an O-R theory as a complete account of goal-
directed action is that, at least in rats, the magnitude of PIT
is unaVected by outcome devaluation. For example, follow-
ing separate S-O and R-O training phases, Rescorla (1994
conditioned an aversion to the food outcome before testing
the ability of the stimulus to enhance the corresponding
response. Importantly, he found that the ability of a stimu-
lus to facilitate responding was unaVected by devaluation
of the associated food (see also Holland, 2004). In other
words, PIT occurs even when the anticipated outcome is
not currently a goal for the animal, and therefore, although
O!R associations allow outcomes to prime associated
responses, a diVerent mechanism may mediate the pursuit
of goals.
Further evidence that O-R theory may not be a suYcient
account of goal-directed behaviour comes from neural dis-
sociations between PIT and outcome devaluation eVects in
rats. Lesions of the nucleus accumbens core abolish the
immediate sensitivity of instrumental performance to
devaluation of the outcome, but do not aVect outcome-
speciWc PIT (Corbit, Muir, & Balleine, 2001). Conversely,
lesions of the nucleus accumbens shell abolish this form of
PIT while not inXuencing performance in an outcome
devaluation test (Corbit et al., 2001; de Borchgrave, Raw-
lins, Dickinson, & Balleine, 2002). Furthermore, related
research has shown that extensive amounts of training abol-
ish the goal-directed nature of instrumental performance
but leave outcome-speciWc PIT intact (Holland, 2004). In
summary, several rodent PIT studies provide evidence that
response priming via O!R associations and outcome
devaluation are mediated by diVerent mechanisms, suggest-
ing that O-R theory may not provide a complete account of
goal-directed behaviour. Note, however, that these studies
do not demonstrate that O!R associations cannot mediate
goal-directed behaviour. It certainly remains possible that
the lack of sensitivity of response priming via O!R asso-
ciations to the current incentive value of an outcome and to
Psychological Research
extensive training merely arise as artefacts of the PIT
procedure. In any case, it appears wise to be cautious in
accepting an O-R account of goal-directed behaviour. In the
following section we will, therefore, discuss an alternative
candidate theory of goal-directed action.
Response-outcome (R-O) theory
Although O-R theorists focus on the role of outcome expec-
tancies as a cue for action control through O!R associa-
tions, they commonly assume that the association between
outcome and response is bidirectional (Elsner & Hommel,
2004; Pavlov, 1932; Asratyan, 1974). An alternative account
of goal-directed action emphasises the importance of the
(forward) R!O association, rather than the O!R associa-
tion in which the direction of the association is ‘backward’
with respect to the instrumental relationship between
response and outcome. Like the O-R theory, this alternative
R-O theory also has an intuitive appeal. R-O theory assumes
that the decision process starts with the thought of the alter-
native courses of action that are available, one at a time. The
thought of each response then retrieves the thought of its
outcome through the R!O association. If the outcome is
then evaluated as a goal, this evaluation is fed back to the
response mechanism to enhance the likelihood that this
response will be performed. As an example, assume that you
are visiting Amsterdam and that you just had lunch on the
Dam Square. As you come out of the restaurant, you con-
sider turning to the right, which you know will bring you
back to the central train station, or turning to the left, which
you know will bring you to the shops in Kalverstraat.
According to the R-O account, the thought of turning right
activates a representation of the station, which because it is
not currently a goal, supplies no evaluative feedback to the
response of turning right. By contrast the thought of turning
left activates a representation of shopping in Kalverstraat, a
thought that is evaluated as a current goal with the conse-
quence that this evaluation is fed back to augment the
propensity to turn left.
To the best of our knowledge, such an R-O theory was
Wrst proposed by Thorndike (1931). He characterised it as a
“representative or ideational theory” and on those grounds
dismissed it as an account of instrumental behaviour, at
least for animals. Subsequently, a number of theorists
espoused what Estes (1969) called “contiguity-cybernetic”
accounts and indeed Sutton and Barto (1981) simulated
such a model within the context of the left versus right turn
choice, as in the Amsterdam scenario. Unhappy with an
implied commitment to a purely contiguity-based process
for R-O learning, Dickinson and Balleine (1993, 1994)
rechristened this class of theories as associative-cybernetic
(AC) accounts.
One of the problems faced by AC theory is how the
thoughts of candidate responses are brought to mind in the
Wrst place. In the case of the Amsterdam shopping trip, at
least in its idealised form, there are only two response alter-
natives and so one can assume that random sampling of the
two alternatives would rapidly lead one to consider turning
left for shopping. In this particular scenario, therefore, the
R-O mechanism for goal-directed action allows for eYcient
decision-making. In the case of the ice cream vendor, how-
ever, it seems implausible that when we hear the jingle
from our living room, we need to consider all response
alternatives that are available in that moment until the
thought of going to the van reminds us of the currently
desired outcome of ice cream. To explain the apparent ease
of decision-making in such a context R-O theory needs to
take into consideration the eVect of the prior experience of
the S: R-O relationship. To solve the problem of response
sampling, Dickinson and Balleine suggested that the R-O
process could be interfaced with an S-R mechanism
(Dickinson, 1994; Dickinson & Balleine, 1993).
As we have noted earlier, the “Law of EVect” of instru-
mental behaviour (1911) assumes that delivering a reward
contingent upon a response strengthens or reinforces an
S!R association, in our example, between the jingle and
the response of going in the direction of the van. The criti-
cal feature of this stimulus-response/reinforcement process
is that it allows stimuli to directly bring to mind the thought
of a response that in the past has been rewarded in the pres-
ence of that particular stimulus. There is a good evidence
for the reality of this habit process even at the lowest levels
in the central nervous system. For example, Wolpaw and
colleagues (1997) discovered that the gain of the stretch
reXex in both rats and monkeys can be altered by instru-
mental reinforcement. As this reX
ex is mediated by a single
synapse between the aVerent and eVerent limb of the reXex
arc in the spinal chord, this adaptation represents a proto-
typical form of S-R learning.
Because the nature of the outcome is not encoded in the
S!R associative structure, this process by itself cannot
mediate goal-directed action, but rather is a model for the
acquisition of habits. S-R habit formation can, however, be
integrated with R-O learning to address the problem of
response sampling. In our ice cream van scenario, the initial
trips to the van to purchase an ice cream form a jingle!van
approach (S!R) association, albeit weak initially, rein-
forced by the reward of consuming the ice cream. Although
this weak jingle!approach association may not be strong
enough to support reliable behaviour on its own, it at least
enables future presentations of the jingle to activate the
thought of going to the van more strongly than those of
alternative responses. This thought then calls to mind the
ice cream via the R!O association, which in turn supplies
a positive feedback upon the thought of approaching the
Psychological Research
van so that it becomes activated strong enough to trigger
the actual behaviour. Therefore, the AC theory assumes
that goal-directed actions are selected through an S!R!O
associative chain in contrast to the S!O!R chain of O-R
The associative-cybernetic model
In order to illustrate the operation of the AC theory, Dickinson
and Balleine developed a model (Dickinson, 1994,
Dickinson & Balleine, 1993), which is illustrated in Fig. 1
by applying it to the scenario of purchasing an ice cream
upon hearing the vendor’s jingle. Behaviour originates in
the habit memory, which contains (S) sensory units respon-
sive to environmental stimuli that are potentially connected
to response (R) units that encode a relatively high-level
speciWcation of the corresponding behaviour. The output of
the habit memory takes place via the motor system, which
contain units (M) corresponding to the motor programmes
that actually drive the behaviour. The connections between
the stimulus and response units in the habit memory are
plastic and subject to strengthening through the reinforce-
ment process envisaged by Thorndike (1911). This process
is implemented in the model by a reward unit in the incen-
tive system, which delivers a reinforcement signal to the
habit memory when a rewarding outcome is received so
that the S!R connection that is active contiguously with
that signal is strengthened. Consequently, in the ice cream
scenario, the Wrst ice cream we enjoy will strengthen a ten-
dency to approach the van when we next hear its jingle.
Within the AC model, the reinforcement learning in this
direct S-R feed-forward pathway through the habit memory
and motor system is a slow process so that early in acquisi-
tion the relevant S!R connection is not suYciently strong
for the output of the habit memory to drive the correspond-
ing motor unit reliably. And, of course, the feed-forward
pathway on its own cannot give rise to goal-directed
behaviour. To address this issue, the model contains a
fourth component, an associative memory that contains
units that encode sensory/perceptual events that are critical
for goal-directed action. The Wrst is a unit (F) representing
the sensory feedback that arises from performing the target
response, in this case van approach, whereas the second
unit (O) represents the outcome of the response, the ice
cream. Activation of F and O units corresponds to the
thoughts of van approach and of the ice cream, respec-
tively, in the folk psychology account.
The feedback loop is then completed by the acquisition
of three associations. The Wrst is a bidirectional R,F asso-
ciation between the response unit in the habit memory and
the feedback unit in the associative memory brought about
by the contingency between the Wring of the response unit
and activation of the feedback unit by immediate sensory
consequences of performing the target response, a contin-
gency that is experienced every time the response is per-
formed. Within our scenario, activation of the response unit
for van approach in the habit memory will activate the
thought of the response in the associative memory. The
second is an F!
O association formed in the associative
memory by experience with the instrumental contingency
between the action and outcome. This F!O association
represents instrumental knowledge as stipulated in the
belief criterion for goal-directed action and in our scenario
means that the thought of van approach will activate the
thought of ice cream.
Fig. 1 Schematic representa-
tion of the basic architecture of
the associative-cybernetic model
S-R reinforcement
learned association
fixed connection
S-R reinforcement
S-R reinforcement
learned association
fixed connection
S-R reinforcement
Psychological Research
Recall, however, that in order for behaviour to be goal-
directed in the strict sense, it has to also meet the desire cri-
terion. In other words, a goal-directed action is not only
guided by instrumental knowledge but it is also sensitive to
the current incentive value of its outcome. Within the AC
model the value of an outcome is learnt by experiencing
directly the hedonic reactions to it. There is now extensive
evidence for this process of incentive learning in rats
(Dickinson & Balleine, 1994, 2008). Incentive learning is
captured in the AC model by assuming that experiencing
the delight of ice cream leads to the formation of a connection
between its sensory (O) representation in the associative
memory and the reward unit in the incentive system. Of
course, devaluation of the outcome, for example by eating a
lot of ice cream (satiety) or feeling sick after eating ice
cream (aversion conditioning), would render this associa-
tion ineVective so that the thought of the outcome would no
longer excite the reward unit. The feedback loop is com-
pleted by assuming that activation of the reward unit, as
well as supplying the reinforcing signal to the habit mem-
ory, also exerts a general facilitatory inXuence on the motor
system. The AC model therefore argues that a habit pro-
cess, mediated by the feed-forward pathway, and the goal-
directed process through the feedback loop work in concert
to control instrumental behaviour.
We will now return to the ice cream example to illustrate
the integrated operation of the AC model. After some lim-
ited experience with the ice vendor, the hearing of the jin-
gle will activate an approach tendency through the S!R
association in the habit memory, which in turn will tend to
excite the M unit for this response in the motor system.
Concurrently, thoughts of the approach response and of ice
cream will be activated in the associative memory through
the R!F and F!O associations, respectively, which in
turn will activate the reward unit in the incentive system,
bringing about a general and indiscriminate inXuence on all
units in the motor system. The important feature of the pos-
itive feedback is that it is only eVective when it coincides
with an excitatory input of the habit system to the approach
motor units. Consequently, the excitatory inXuences medi-
ated by the feed-forward and feedback pathways summate
on the motor unit for approach thereby enhancing the likeli-
hood of this behaviour.
Having sketched out the AC model, we shall consider a
number of features of goal-directed actions and habits and
of their interaction that Wnd a ready explanation within the
Behavioural autonomy
The ‘slips of action’ that punctuate daily life illustrate that
our behaviour is not always goal-directed in nature. Folk
wisdom suggests that such slips of action occur when
well-practised responses intrude to compromise our goal-
directed behaviour. For example, it is a common-place
experience to Wnd oneself arriving at the door of the old
oYce although one’s original intention was to get to the
new one. Adams (1982) was the Wrst to show that in rats
extensive training of the instrumental response of lever
pressing rendered it impervious to devaluation of the food
outcome, a Wnding that has now been replicated in a num-
ber of rodent studies (Dickinson, Balleine, Watt, Gonzalez,
& Boakes, 1995; Holland, 2004). The development of
behavioural autonomy of the current incentive value of
the goal follows directly from the architecture of the AC
model. Continued reinforcement should strengthen the
S!R association in the habit memory to such a degree that
the presentation of the stimulus can reliably trigger the
motor unit for the response before the longer feedback
pathway through the associative memory can evaluate
whether the outcome is currently a goal for the animal.
Whether or not extensive training establishes comparable
behavioural autonomy in humans awaits investigation and,
to date, the only experimental demonstration of behavioural
autonomy in adult humans is that engendered by response
conXict due to
stimulus-outcome associative interference
(de Wit et al., 2007).
De Wit et al. (2007) trained adults on instrumental dis-
criminations, in which each trial started with the presenta-
tion of a fruit icon on a computer screen signalling whether
a left or right key press was correct. Choice of the correct
response yielded another fruit icon and points, whereas the
incorrect response did not yield a fruit outcome and earned
zero points. ConXict was induced in an incongruent dis-
crimination by having the same fruit function as the dis-
criminative stimulus for one response in one component of
the discrimination, and as an outcome for the opposite
response in the other component. For example, the correct
left key press to a coconut stimulus yielded a cherry out-
come, whereas the coconut was the outcome for the correct
right key press to the cherry stimulus. Whereas limited
training on a standard instrumental discrimination should
give rise to goal-directed performance, the incongruent dis-
crimination should not be solvable in this manner because
each fruit icon should become associated with opposite
responses in its roles of stimulus and outcome. However,
although de Wit et al. (2007) found that the acquisition of
the incongruent discrimination was retarded relative to a
standard discrimination participants did learn to choose the
correct response. Furthermore, de Wit et al. showed that
under these circumstances participants do not encode the
R-O relationship but rather solve the task by acquiring simple
S!R associations. Unlike in the standard discrimination
(instructed) devaluation of one of the outcomes had no
impact on the response choice in the incongruent discrimina-
tion. Therefore, stimulus-outcome associative interference
Psychological Research
can cause a shift in learning strategy from goal-directed
action to habits in humans (in Experiment 2; and in rats in
Experiment 1). Whereas extensive training is proposed to
engender behavioural autonomy mainly through enhancing
the S-R feed-forward pathway in the AC model, the incon-
gruent discrimination renders the feedback pathway
ineVective by bringing about conXict in the associative
memory leaving the residual control with the feed-forward
Behavioural autonomy is also observed in other condi-
tions that should render the feedback pathway in eVective,
at least in rats. One such condition is when there is only a
weak instrumental contingency between the action and the
outcome. The strength of this contingency can be varied by
contrasting training on diVerent reinforcement schedules,
which basically fall into two classes. The Wrst are ratio
schedules in which on average there is a Wxed probability
that an action will produce an outcome. A ratio schedule
models cases in which there is an inexhaustible source of
resources or outcomes so that the more the agent works the
more outcomes it receives. Ratio schedules can be con-
trasted with another class of schedule in which the resources
deplete when taken and then regenerate with time. An
example would be the task faced by a nectar foraging hum-
mingbird. Once it has depleted a Xower of its nectar, how-
ever frequently it re-visits the Xower it will not receive
further nectar until the Xower has regenerated the nectar
resource. Such depleting-regenerating sources are modelled
by interval schedules under which there is some average
interval between available resources and which have an
upper limit on the rate at which outcomes can be produced.
Therefore, with interval schedules there is no constant ratio
between the rate of responding and the number of outcomes
gained. As ratio schedules therefore arrange a much stron-
ger R-O relationship than interval schedules, they should
generate a stronger representation of the instrumental con-
tingency in the associative memory, or in other words a
stronger F!O association. Ratio performance should there-
fore engage the feedback loop of the AC model more than
interval performance and so should be more susceptible to
outcome devaluation, a prediction that has received support
from the rodent literature (Dickinson, Nicholas, & Adams,
1983; Hilario, Clouse, Yin, & Costa, 2007).
The instrumental behaviour of very young infants also
appears to be behaviourally autonomous. When discussing
the desire criterion, we noted that infants over the age of
approximately 2 years are able to acquire goal-directed
actions. In contrast, instrumental performance on the same
task by younger infants is insensitive to outcome devalua-
tion (Klossek et al., 2008). Within the AC model, the devel-
opmental transition from autonomous habitual behaviour to
goal-directed action is linked to the engagement of the
feedback loop through the associative memory and incen-
tive system, which Klossek et al. (2008) speculated may
depend upon the maturation of the cortical-striatal-thalamic
Balleine and Ostlund proposed that the capacity for
goal-directed action depends upon the functioning of such
loops on the basis of the fact that lesions in components of
these loops render instrumental responding behaviourally
autonomous (Balleine, 2005; Balleine & Ostlund, 2007).
Although rats with lesions to prelimbic prefrontal cortex
(Balleine & Dickinson, 1998; Corbit & Balleine, 2003;
Killcross & Coutureau, 2003), the dorsomedial striatum
(Yin, Ostlund, Knowlton, & Balleine, 2005), the core of the
nucleus accumbens (Corbit, Muir, & Balleine, 2001), and
the dorsomedial thalamus (Corbit, Muir, & Balleine, 2003)
can all acquire instrumental responding, their performance
is not directly sensitive to subsequent outcome devaluation.
The functioning of the feedback loop of the AC model may
therefore critically depend upon the integrity of the relevant
cortical-striatal-thalamic loops.
In summary, the AC model provides a framework for
integrating the diverse circumstances under which instru-
mental behaviour becomes autonomous of the current value
of the goal: extensive training, conXict, development and
neurobiological dysfunction.
Integrating O-R and R-O learning
As discussed above, neurobiological dissociations which
demonstrate a loss of the capacity for goal-directed action
while leaving basic S-R habit learning intact, accord with
the structure of the AC model. In contrast, demonstrations
that other brain dysfunctions leave rats with the capacity for
goal-directed action while abolishing the development of
behavioural autonomy appear to be problematic for the AC
model. Dysfunction in the rodent infralimbic prefrontal cor-
tex (Killcross & Coutureau, 2003) and dorsolateral striatum
(Yin, Knowlton, & Balleine, 2004) prevents the develop-
ment of behavioural autonomy so that instrumental
responding remains sensitive to outcome devaluation even
after extensive training. The reason why this result is poten-
tially problematic for the AC model is that the architecture
of the model assumes that the capacity for goal-directed
action emerges from the modulation of the S-R feed-for-
ward pathway by the feedback loop through the associative
memory. In other words, the associative memory is ‘para-
sitic’ on the habit memory. Therefore, dysfunction in the
habit memory mediating the S-R pathway should also
impact on goal-directed action.
One possible way to resolve this dilemma is by incorpo-
rating O-R learning into the model. We have already noted
that O-R learning plays an important role in the control of
instrumental behaviour as manifest in direct and indirect
PIT priming of responses by outcomes. Although PIT
Psychological Research
priming eVects are insensitive to the current value of the
outcome and O-R learning therefore appears to fail to meet
the desire criterion, these priming eVects do require that
O-R learning is incorporated into any complete associative
account of instrumental action.
The connection between the response (R) unit in the
habit memory and the response feedback (F) unit the asso-
ciative memory is depicted as being bidirectional in Fig. 1,
a bidirectionality that allows for ideomotor inXuences
within the AC model. However, not only is the sensory
feedback from performing an action highly response con-
tingent and contiguous, so are the sensory properties of the
outcome itself, albeit to a lesser degree. Consequently, not
only should the F unit in the associative memory develop a
bidirectional association with the R unit, but so should the
outcome (O) unit (see Fig. 1). The incorporation of O-R
learning into the AC model then allows for two routes in
the control of performance by outcome value.
The Wrst route is the one that has already been devel-
oped, namely the priming of a response by the S!R asso-
ciation in the habit memory and the concurrent incentive
evaluation of the outcome through the R,F!O associa-
tive chain. This represents the case in which the thought of
a response activates the thought of the outcome. The alter-
native route is that via the bidirectional R,O association
so that the activation of the outcome representation in the
associative memory not only produces evaluation of the
outcome through the reward unit in the incentive system
but also concurrent priming of the response in the habit
memory, thereby resulting in summation of activation on
the motor unit for this response if the outcome is currently a
goal. This is the case in which the thought of a goal directly
primes the associated response.
On the basis of neurobiological double dissociations,
some researchers (e.g. Daw et al., 2005) have argued that
independent processes mediate habitual and goal-directed
behaviour. However, the integration of R-O and O-R learn-
ing within the AC model also allows for the observed disso-
ciations. The loss of the capacity for goal-directed action
results from dysfunction in the positive feedback loop,
whereas the failure to develop behavioural autonomy reX-
ects failure of S-R learning in the habit memory, leaving
the response primed through the O!R association.
Summary and conclusions
Actions are truly goal-directed only if the decisions to
undertake them are based on the knowledge of the causal
relationship between the actions and their consequences
(belief criterion), and if those consequences are currently a
goal (desire criterion). In the current paper, two classes of
associative theories of goal-directed action were reviewed,
namely, O-R (or ideomotor) theory and R-O theory. In fact,
it seems clear that in most situations we form both types of
associations. While sometimes the thought of an action
reminds us of the consequences (R!O), on other occasions
the thought of a goal reminds us of the appropriate course
of action (O!R). The question of interest therefore is what
diVerential roles these associations may play in decision-
We argue that while O-R theory oVers the most parsimo-
nious account of response priming eVects by outcomes as
well as by cues for outcomes (PIT), an R-O mechanism
may be responsible for the sensitivity of goal-directed
behaviour to the current value of its consequences (out-
come revaluation). With the aim of capturing the full com-
plexity of goal-directed action we have integrated these two
accounts in the associative-cybernetic (AC) model. This
model postulates associative as well as incentive processes
to account for response selection via R!O and O!R
The additional beneWt of the AC model is that it oVers an
explanation for the transition from goal-directed actions to
S-R habits, or the development of behavioural autonomy.
Habit formation renders behaviour less Xexible but it has
the advantage that it allows for fast selection of appropriate
responses in stable environments despite distraction, as for
example the changing of gears while navigating through
busy traYc. So, although habit formation has to our knowl-
edge only been demonstrated in a single study in humans
(de Wit et al., 2007), it makes intuitive sense that much of
our daily behaviour is driven directly by S!R associations.
We would therefore like to argue that translating behav-
ioural assessments of habitual versus goal-directed action,
as developed in animal research, to the domain of cognitive
The O!R pathway can capture response priming as envisaged by
Pavlov in his bidirectional theory (Pavlov, 1932; Asratyan, 1974).
According to this theory, O!R associations are formed as a conse-
quence of experience with the consequent R-O contingency. An alter-
native O-R account was proposed by Trapold and Overmier (1972),
who argued that O!R associations arise because environmental cues
elicit an anticipatory representation “O” of the instrumental outcome
that precedes performance of the instrumental response. This anteced-
ent “O”-R relationship then allows for the representation of the antici-
pated outcome to enter into association with the instrumental response
through an S-R reinforcement mechanism. The latter account could be
integrated into the AC model by allowing “O” units in the habit mem-
ory to enter into association with the response units. However, we
should note that there is good reason to favour the bidirectional theory
over the “O”-R account. Whereas bidirectional theory predicts speciWc
O!R priming following concurrent instrumental training, it is less
clear that Trapold and Overmier (1972) would predict this eVect in the
absence of reliable predictors of the outcomes during training. How-
ever, PIT does occur following concurrent training (see e.g. Colwill &
Rescorla, 1988). Moreover, Rescorla and Colwill (1989) showed that
Pavlovian stimuli activate responses that previously yielded the same
outcome rather than responses that during training were preceded by
anticipation of this outcome (see also Rescorla, 1992).
Psychological Research
neuroscience can provide us with insights into associative
and neural mechanisms of human decision-making. More-
over, habit formation could be an important concept in
neuropsychiatry. For instance, compulsive behaviours in
obsessive-compulsive disorder (e.g. Evans, Lewis, & Iobst,
2004) and drug-seeking in addiction have been character-
ised as habitual (e.g. Everitt, Dickinson, & Robbins, 2001;
Everitt & Robbins, 2005; Redish, Jensen, & Johnson,
2008). Parkinson’s disease, on the other hand, has been
associated with impaired habit formation (e.g. Yin &
Knowlton, 2006). The AC model oVers a promising frame-
work within which these suggestions of accelerated and
impaired habit formation can be meaningfully explored.
Finally, application of the model to cognitive development
gives rise to the intriguing suggestion that the ability to
form S!R associations, as well as O!R associations,
emerges earlier in child development than the ability to
behave in a goal-directed manner, which depends on the
formation of F!O associations in the associative memory
as well as the engagement of the incentive system.
Finally, while we argue that the AC model captures
much of the complexity of animal as well as human behav-
iour, we surely do not wish to negate the importance of
abstract rule-based reasoning for human decision-making
(for dual-process theories, see e.g. Evans, 2003; Sloman,
1996). Indeed, we subscribe to the notion that ultimately
associative processes, incentive processes, as well as
higher-order knowledge interact in the control of much of
daily behaviour. However, we insist that an understanding
of the operation of fundamental associative and incentive
processes as captured by the AC model is an important pre-
requisite for gaining insight into human intentional action.
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provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
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... Studies have suggested that rewarded actions tend to become habitual more quickly, or more strongly (e.g., Schnauber-Stockmann & Naab, 2019; Wiedemann et al., 2014). Rewarding an action can facilitate habit learning via three mechanisms: by bolstering the motivation to act; by promoting further repetition; and by strengthening the contribution made by each context-consistent performance to the imprinting of the context-response association (de Wit & Dickinson, 2009;Lally & Gardner, 2013). Whether rewards are necessary for habit to form is however an empirical question, which requires testing by examining whether habits can form in the absence of reward. ...
... We concur with Phillips and Mullan's many helpful recommendations around how best to navigate behavioural complexity when seeking to apply habit to understand or change any health-related behaviour. For example, while we contend that the concept of reward may not be an essential precursor to habit, we agree that practitioners should encourage repeated performance of rewarding behaviours, because this catalyses the formation of contextbehaviour associations (de Wit & Dickinson, 2009). Clarity in terminology and measurement will be key to further developing and harnessing our understanding of the habit concept to support people to enhance their health. ...
... This can be theoretically justified by the "law of effect, " according to which responses to a situation that entail satisfaction are more likely to occur again in that same situation (Thorndike, 1911). Also, it can be argued that the relation between the mere repetition of a behavior and habit strength can be moderated by rewards (de Wit and Dickinson, 2009;Lally and Gardner, 2013). Accordingly, there is research suggesting that the cue-behavior association characteristic of habits might be strengthened through repetition, and each repetition might contribute more to habit formation when perceived as a reward (Wiedemann et al., 2014;Schnauber-Stockmann and Naab, 2019). ...
... Further, although theoretically unexpected, motivational or rewarding variables were found to directly predict habit formation of health behaviors independently of repetition: Gardner and Lally (2013) found this direct effect for selfdetermined motivation, Judah et al. (2013) found it for favorable attitudes, and Weyland et al. (2020) for affective responses. Regarding affective attitude, one cross-sectional study showed a significant positive correlation with exercise habit strength (de Bruijn and Rhodes, 2011). Referring to data from new gym members, Kaushal et al. (2018) found that affective judgement, together with behavioral regulation and preparatory habit (i.e., automatically preparing for exercise), collectively explained mediation between condition (an educative workshop that underlined the importance of self-regulative action planning, consistent use of cues, and rewards vs. control) and change in selfreported PA. ...
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The present study contains an affect-based intervention intended to support exercise trainers in positively influencing their course participants’ affective responses to their exercise courses. We argue that positive affective responses are associated with habit formation, thereby being a promising approach for avoiding high drop-out rates in exercise courses. First, the present study aimed to investigate whether the intervention for exercise trainers could increase (a) affective attitudes, and (b) exercise instigation habit strength, and influence the development of (c) weekly measured affective responses and (d) automaticity among adult participants of exercise courses. Second, it examined the relationship between the development of affective responses and exercise instigation habit strength. Ten exercise trainers of weekly sports and exercise courses at a German university received either an affect-based intervention or a control intervention. 132 of their course participants answered the Self-Report Habit Index (SRHI; the automaticity sub-scale SRBAI was also analyzed) for exercise instigation habit strength and items to measure affective attitude in the initial and final assessment. Moreover, they were assessed for a duration of 10 weeks during which, each time after attending the course, they reported their affective response to exercise as well as their automaticity in arriving at the decision to exercise. In the repeated measures ANOVA, there was a significant main effect of time for exercise instigation habit strength. Overall, habit strength was higher in the final than in the initial assessment. However, there were no significant differences between the two conditions in all study variables. In the latent growth curve model, the trajectory of the latent growth curve of valence was a significant predictor of the final exercise instigation habit strength. While the applied affect-based intervention was not successful in enhancing positive affective responses to exercise, the results indicate that positive affective responses may contribute to strengthening exercise instigation habits. Future studies should examine the effectiveness of interventions in long-term study designs.
... While adult tasks are often adapted for use with children and animals (i.e., down-linkage), adaptations in the opposite direction-from animals or children to adults (i.e., up-linkage)have recently gained traction in comparative and developmental literatures. Animal-human translation studies emphasize the adaptation of non-human animal paradigms for use with humans [34]. This bidirectional adaptation ensures that both paradigms are valid analogs of each other and results can therefore be compared [35]. ...
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In the context of economic games, adults sacrifice money to avoid unequal outcomes, showing so-called inequity aversion. Child-friendly adaptations of these games have shown that children, too, show inequity aversion. Moreover, inequity aversion shows a clear developmental trajectory, with young children rejecting only disadvantageously unequal distributions and older children rejecting both disadvantageously and advantageously unequal distributions. However, based on existing work, it is difficult to compare adult and child responses to inequity because (1) adapting economic games to make them child-friendly may importantly alter the dynamics of the fairness interaction and (2) adult work typically uses abstract rewards such as money while work with children typically uses more concrete rewards like candy, stickers or toys. Here we adapted the Inequity Game—a paradigm designed to study children’s responses to inequality in isolation from other concerns—to test inequity aversion in adults ( N = 104 pairs). We manipulated whether participants made decisions about concrete rewards (candy) or abstract rewards (tokens that could be traded in for money). We found that, like children, adults rejected unequal payoffs in this task. Additionally, we found that reward type mattered: adults rejected disadvantageous—but not advantageous—monetary distributions, yet rejected both disadvantageous and advantageous candy distributions. These findings allow us to draw clearer comparisons across child and adult responses to unfairness and help paint a fuller picture of inequity aversion in humans.
... 9 10 There are many different ways to define and study habits but the most rigorous 11 definition is that offered by the associative dual-process model of behaviour (de Wit 12 & Dickinson, 2009;Dickinson, 1985). Under this framework, habits are defined as 13 responses (R) that are elicited by contexts and stimuli (S), regardless of the current 14 desirability of the outcome (de Wit & Dickinson, 2009;Dickinson, 1994Dickinson, , 2016, and 15 ...
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Despite our familiarity with the concept of habits, eliciting and measuring habits experimentally in humans has proven to be difficult. A possible explanation is that participants in psychological experiments actively recruit goal-directed control and therefore make few habitual slips-of-action in the presence of stimuli signalling devalued outcomes. In the current experiment we used the symmetrical outcome-revaluation task in combination with a working memory load in an attempt to tip the balance from goal-directed control to stimulus-response habit. During the instrumental learning phase, participants learned to make a Go response to stimuli signalling valuable outcomes (and points) while not responding (NoGo) to stimuli signalling not-valuable outcomes. During the subsequent test phase, the outcomes signalled by the stimuli were either value-congruent with training (still-valuable and still-not-valuable), or value-incongruent (devalued and upvalued). Participants had to flexibly adjust their behaviour on value-incongruent trials where the stimulus-response association learned during training was no longer appropriate. For half the participants, a concurrent working memory load was imposed during the test phase. In line with our preregistered hypotheses, participants showed evidence for habitual slips-of-action but those under working memory load showed increased habit tendencies (specifically failures to inhibit prepotent Go responses in the presence of stimuli signalling devalued outcomes). This central finding suggests that a working memory load can be used to reveal habits in humans.
... The habitual system chooses actions based on the requirements of the current task. In comparison, the goal-directed system anticipates the conclusion of upcoming actions and selects actions accordingly (Daw et al. 2005;de Wit and Dickinson 2009;Dolan and Dayan 2013;Morris et al. 2016). Computational evidence demonstrated that the goal-directed system achieves the best possible outcome at the expense of energy and time; however, habitual action selection is faster and easier, but it is incapable of changing in light of environmental goals (Hardwick et al. 2018). ...
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The evidence for the hemispheric specialization of motor planning reveals several inconsistencies between the left-lateralized hypothesis and a distributed system across the hemispheres. We compared participants with left hemiplegic cerebral palsy (HCP) to right-handed control subjects in this study's first experiment by inviting them to perform a motor planning task. Participants were required to release the start button, grasp a hexagon, and rotate it according to the instructions. In the second experiment, we compared left-HCP subjects with right-HCP subjects inviting them to perform the same task (we used the data for left-HCP subjects from the first experiment). P2 amplitude, as well as planning time, grasping time, releasing time, and initial grip selection planning patterns, were used as outcome measures in both experiments. The first experiment revealed that controls acted more quickly and chose more effective planning patterns. Also, the P2 amplitude was smaller in left-HCP subjects than in control subjects. No significant group effect was observed in the second experiment for any movement-related measure or P2. At the neural level, however, there was an interaction between 'region' and 'group,' indicating the distinction between the two groups in the right region. The results are discussed in terms of motor planning's hemispheric distribution and individual differences in the HCP group.
Although brushing teeth twice a day is not difficult, a surprisingly large proportion of adolescents do not behave accordingly. This paper brings together the COM-B model and the habit formation theory in order to create a basis for a more comprehensive, customer-oriented, theory-based understanding of the issue. A total of nine focus group interviews were conducted among adolescents to further understand underlying aspects and develop solutions. In findings, barriers related to adolescents tooth brushing behavior were identified in all areas of COM-B model. Especially the role of automatic motivation was highlighted as in mornings tooth brushing seemed not to have a stable place in daily routines. To further understand this issue and develop suitable solutions, habit formation theory together with identified enablers provided effective starting point. This also demonstrated how these two theories can complement each other. The study provides actionable insights for public sector marketers to understand and assists adolescents’ tooth-brushing behavior.
Habitual actions, which are associated with addictive behaviours, contribute to the loss of control of food seeking seen following exposure to calorie-dense foods in rats. Antagonism of orexin-receptor-1 (ORX-R1) has been shown to reduce a range of stimulus-driven feeding behaviours, but have yet to be implicated in the regulation of habitual actions. In the current study, male Long-Evans rats were given ‘binge-like’ access to high-calorie diet (HCD) or standard chow diet, and were subsequently trained to press a lever for food outcome. When lever responses were tested following outcome devaluation, chow-fed rats displayed goal-directed actions, whereas HCD-exposed rats displayed habitual actions. In study 1, it was shown that systemic administration of the ORX-R1 antagonist, SB-334867, prior to test restored goal-directed behaviour in HCD-exposed rats. In study 2, intra-nigral administration of SB-334867 similarly restored goal-directed behaviour, thereby implicating the substantia nigra as an important site for this effect. This study demonstrates that targeting ORX-R1 reduces habitual food seeking in male rats which may be important for understanding and treating compulsive feeding, obesity and binge eating disorder. This study also implicates the lateral hypothalamus, where ORX is produced, in mediating the expression of habits for the first time, and thus extends on the neurocircuits known to regulate habitual actions. Further investigation is required to determine whether the same effects are also seen in female rats, given that there are recognised sexual dimorphisms in feeding behaviour and a higher incidence of disordered eating in female than male populations.
Habits are the subject of intense international research. Under the associative dual-process model the outcome devaluation paradigm has been used extensively to classify behaviours as being either goal-directed (sensitive to shifts in the value of associated outcomes) or habitual (triggered by stimuli without anticipation of consequences). This has proven to be a useful framework for studying the neurobiology of habit and relevance of habits in clinical psychopathology. However, in recent years issues have been raised about this rather narrow definition of habits in comparison to habitual behaviour experienced in the real world. Specifically, defining habits as the absence of goal-directed control, the very specific set-ups required to demonstrate habit experimentally and the lack of direct evidence for habits as stimulus-response behaviours are viewed as problematic. In this review paper we address key critiques that have been raised about habit research within the framework of the associative dual-process model. We then highlight novel research approaches studying different features of habits with methods that expand beyond traditional paradigms.
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Many of the key problems humans are facing today result from desires, habits, and social norms impeding behavior change. Here, we apply a grounded cognition perspective to these phenomena, suggesting that simulating the consequences of one's behaviors plays a key role in them. We first describe the grounded cognition theory of desire and motivated behavior, and present evidence on how consumption and reward simulations underlie people's representation of appetitive stimuli and guide motivated behavior. Then, we discuss how the theory can be used to understand the effects of habits, social norms, and various self-regulation strategies. We suggest conceptualizing behavior change as overcoming the simulations of hedonic and social reward that favor existing habits and behaviors, and as updating situated representations of motivated behaviors in their social context. We discuss how this perspective can help us understand the challenges that people experience in initiating and repeating new behaviors, and in high-impact decision-making in the face of the status quo. In order to move beyond the socially sanctioned, habitual behaviors that currently threaten human and planetary health, we must understand what motivates them, and how this motivation can be harnessed for the greater good.
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Four experiments provide converging evidence that serial learning in a serial reaction task is based on response-effect learning, mediated by the learning of the relations between a response and the stimulus that follows it. In Experiment 1, the authors varied the stimulus sequence and the response-stimulus relations while holding the response sequence constant. Learning effects depended on the complexity of the response-stimulus relations but not on the stimulus-stimulus relations. In Experiment 2, transfer of serial learning from 1 stimulus sequence to another was only found when both sequences had identical response-stimulus relations. In Experiment 3, a variation of the stimulus sequence alone had no effect on serial learning, whereas in Experiment 4 learning effects increased when the response-stimulus relations but not the stimulus-stimulus relations were simplified. These findings suggest that serial learning is based on mechanisms of voluntary action control.
Demonstrated postreinforcement signal processing by male albino Norway rats ( N = 262) in 6 experiments, using a discrete-trials choice procedure. Exp I assessed the extent to which Ss were able to transfer knowledge about associations between postreinforcement signal durations and choice responses to conditions in which a particular signal duration preceded the opportunity to make a choice response. In Exp II, the generality of the transfer effect was demonstrated by using both signal duration and signal modality as relevant stimulus attributes for the postreinforcement signals. The role of the relative durations of the reinforcement-signal gap and the intertrial interval was investigated in Exp III. To assess the effects of within- and between-trial signal relations on the acquisition of a temporal discrimination, both pre- and postreinforcement signals were presented on each trial in Exps IV and V. The effects of pre- and postreinforcement signal relations on the steady-state performance of a temporal bisection task across 3 signal ranges were studied in Exp VI. Overall results suggest that rats readily process various stimulus attributes of postreinforcement signals and that relations among postreinforcement signals, choice responses, and prereinforcement signals are major determinants of choice behavior. (39 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
This study attempts to explicate some of the major determinants of relapse in alcoholics by manipulating craving and alcohol acquisition behavior through appropriate interoceptive and exteroceptive stimulation. Subjective, behavioral, physiological, and neurophysiological measures were used with 24 chronic alcoholics, randomly assigned to one of two groups—label (L) and nonlabel (NL). In the L situation, exteroceptive cues—such as the clear sight and smell of alcohol—were conducive to appropriate "cognitive labeling." Alcoholic subjects in each group were administered either a placebo (P), high (Hi), or low dose (Lo) of alcohol. Consistent with the conditioning theory proposed, the results generally indicated that craving and alcohol acquisition behavior, as well as conversion from abstinence to alcohol acquisition, were a function of the combination of appropriate interoceptive and exteroceptive cues, with the Lo (L) group condition producing the greatest effects. It appeared that a sufficient amount of alcohol, administered in the context of explicit drinking cues, could act much like hors d'oeuvres and thereby contribute to the "first drink" relapse phenomenon.