Instructions are so effective that they can sometimes affect performance beyond the instructed context. Such ‘automatic’ effects of instructions (AEI) have received much interest recently. It has been argued that AEI are restricted to relatively simple and specific S-R tasks or action plans. The present study put this idea further to the test. In a series of experiments based on the NEXT paradigm (Meiran, Pereg, Kessler, Cole, & Braver, 2015a) we investigated the specificity of AEI. In Experiment 1, we presented category-response instructions instead of S-R instructions. Nevertheless, we observed AEI for novel stimuli from the instructed category (Experiment 1a), and abstractness of the category did not modulate the size of the NEXT effect (Experiment 1b). However, Experiment 2 revealed specificity at the response level: AEI were much smaller in conditions where the instructed GO response is semantically related to, but procedurally different from the required NEXT response, compared to a condition where the NEXT and GO responses were the same. Combined, these findings indicate that AEI can occur when S(C)-R instructions are abstract at the stimulus level, arguing against previous proposals. However, AEI does seem to require specificity at the response level. We discuss implications for recent theories of instruction-based learning and AEI.
- Instructed learning
- prepared reflex
- automatic effects of instructions
- abstract representation