Transfer of learned category-response associations is modulated by instruction

Cai S. Longman, Fraser Milton, Andy J. Wills, Frederick Verbruggen

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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Although instructions often emphasize categories (e.g., odd number → left hand response) rather than specific stimuli (e.g., 3 → left hand response), learning is often interpreted in terms of stimulus-response (S-R) bindings or, less frequently, stimulus-classification (S-C) bindings with little attention being paid to the importance of category-response (C-R) bindings. In a training-transfer paradigm designed to investigate the early stages of category learning, participants were required to classify stimuli according to the category templates presented prior to each block (Experiments 1–4). In some transfer blocks the stimuli, categories and/or responses could be novel or repeated from the preceding training phase. Learning was assessed by comparing the transfer-training performance difference across conditions. Participants were able to rapidly transfer C-R associations to novel stimuli but evidence of S-C transfer was much weaker and S-R transfer was largely limited to conditions where the stimulus was classified under the same category. Thus, even though there was some evidence that learned S-R and S-C associations contributed to performance, learned C-R associations seemed to play a much more important role. In a final experiment (Experiment 5) the stimuli themselves were presented prior to each block, and the instructions did not mention the category structure. In this experiment, the evidence for S-R learning outweighed the evidence for C-R learning, indicating the importance of instructions in learning. The implications for these findings to the learning, cognitive control, and automaticity literatures are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-167
Number of pages24
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • instructed learning
  • S-R learning
  • automaticity
  • cognitive control
  • categorization


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