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Editorial: Human contingency learning
Tom Beckers
University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Jan De Houwer
Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
Helena Matute
Deusto University, Bilbao, Spain
The present special issue presents an overview of
recent developments and controversies in research
on human contingency learning. The aim of this
research is to understand the way in which
humans learn about causal and noncausal relations
between events. It seems quite appropriate that an
issue on human contingency learning is the first
special issue to feature in the newly remerged
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.In
few areas of research has the interplay between
human and animal experimental research been so
intense and fruitful, with findings and theories
mutually influencing each other. Whereas initially,
research on human contingency learning was
greatly stimulated by the suggestion that models
derived from animal conditioning research cou ld
be applied to human contingency learning (e.g.,
Dickinson, Shanks, & Evenden, 1984; Shanks,
1985), in subsequent decades findings and theor-
etical developments in human learning research
have also begun to stimulate developments in
animal conditioning (e.g., Beckers, Miller , De
Houwer, & Uru shihara, 2006; Miller & Matute,
1996). As such, research on human contingency
learning spans both former sections of the
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Indeed, many papers on contingency learning
that have over the years appeared in either
section could just as well have been published in
the other section. The reunited journal will
undoubtedly represent an enduring forum for the
exchange of ideas and cross-fertilization between
animal and human learning research.
We are very pleased that David Shanks has
kindly agreed to provide an introductory address
for the special issue (Shanks, 2007). It was his
seminal work with Anthony Dickinson (e.g.,
Dickinson et al., 1984; Shanks, 1985, 1986,
1987) that has provided much of the impetus for
the renewed interest in human contingency learn-
ing since the 1980s, and his sustained and import-
ant input to the field has been part of what has
kept the field thriving ever since. His address not
only identifies a number of questions that should
inspire future research, but also provides a
(sometimes provocative) framework for the
contributions that make up this issue. These
contributions range f rom purely fundamental,
theoretical analyses (see the paper by Pinen
˜
o&
Miller, 2007), over empirically oriented reports
(see Booth & Buehner, 2007; Cobos, Lo
´
pez, &
Luque, 2007; De Houwer, Vandorpe, & Beckers,
2007; Hagmayer & Waldmann, 2007; Karazinov
& Boakes, 2007; Mitchell, Livesey, & Lovibond,
Correspondence should be addressed to Tom Beckers, Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000
Leuven, Belgium. E-mail: tom.beckers@psy.kuleuven.be
Tom Beckers is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research FoundationFlanders (FWOVlaanderen, Belgium).
# 2007 The Experimental Psychology Society 289
http://www.psypress.com/qjep DOI:10.1080/17470210601000532
THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY
2007, 60 (3), 289290
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2007; Vadillo & Matute, 2007; and Vandorpe, De
Houwer, & Becke rs, 2007), to more applied con-
tributions (see Allan, Siegel, & Hannah, 2007,
and Msetfi, Murphy, & Simpson, 2007), again
reflecting the breadth of contemporary research
on human contingency learning. In compound,
these papers attest to the richness and diversity
of current research on human contingency learning
and indicate key issues that will need to be
addressed in future research.
This special issue originated from an expert
meeting on human contingency learning that the
three of us organized in May 2004 in Lignely,
Belgium. We gratefully acknowledge the support
of the Research FoundationFlanders (FWO
Vlaanderen, Belgium) and the FWO Scientific
Research Network on the Acquisition,
Representation, and A ctivation of Evaluative
Judgements and Emotion in the organization of
this meeting and the compilation of the present
special issue.
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290 THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2007, 60 (3)
BECKERS, DE HOUWER, MATUTE
... For any intelligent organism to be able to understand and interact effectively with its environment, it is necessary to learn the regularities between events and outcomes (Allan, 2005;Beckers, De Houwer, & Matute, 2007;Shanks, 2010). Knowledge of the meaning of words, the tastes of foods, and the likely results of our actions are all built on this contingency learning backbone. ...
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We explore the development of habitual responding within the colour-word contingency learning paradigm, in which participants respond to the colour of neutral words. Each word is most often presented in one colour. Learning is indicated by faster responses to the colour when the word is presented in the expected rather than in the unexpected colour. In Experiment 1, participants took part in two sessions, separated by one day. Critically, one set of words was trained across both days, and other new sets of words were introduced at various time points. Overall performance was faster on trials with overtrained words. Additionally, contingency effects were larger for overtrained words than for words introduced on Day 2. Removing the contingency had a similar impact on the learning effect for overtrained and new words. However, during a counterconditioning phase, where the words were made predictive of new colours, the previous contingency continued to influence performance for overtrained words but not for more recently introduced words. Relatedly, the new contingency was not acquired for the overtrained words. The reverse pattern was observed for recently-introduced words, with the newly-introduced contingency rapidly acquired and the influence of the old contingency quickly extinguished. In Experiments 2 and 3, however, both new and old learning effects were observed for both overtrained and recently-acquired contingencies. The net results suggest that while contingency learning effects are highly pliable during initial and subsequent learning, early-acquired contingency knowledge is maintained after removal of the contingency. Implications for models of learning are discussed.
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