FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales



Associative learning is used by humans and animals alike to achieve goals in their environment more efficiently. Associative Stimulus-Response learning results in neural economy and automatisation of behaviours. However, the mechanisms that lead to this automatisation are still largely unknown. This project aims at breaking down the mechanisms that lead to a stimulus in the environment being associated to a particular response and how these associations are affected by reinforcement.


To identify whether the processes involved in Stimulus-Response associations that are formed via implementation or instruction are the same<br /><br />To investigate whether their formation and durability is affected by top-down and bottom-up factors.<br /><br />

We use behavioural measures of performance (mainly Reaction Times) as well as neuroimaging. We also use computational models of reinforcement learning.




Stimulus-response (S-R) learning comprises at least two different associations. A stimulus is associated to the action made in response to it (e.g., left finger press) and to the task in which the S-R event takes place (usually the classification of a stimulus as belonging to a category). Our previous work demonstrated that stimulus-classification (S-C) and stimulus-action (S-A) associations have independent effects on behaviour, that repetition learning strengthens both S-C and S-A associations, but S-C associations have more durable effects across time. However, such associations are interdependently processed (S-C-A learning), when participants receive rewards that exceed their expectations. We have also shown that S-R associations are formed not only when learning occurs through implementation but also through mere instruction. In this project we aim to break down the processes that underlie learning of both instructed and implemented S-R associations. In part A, we aim to elaborate whether mere instructions also result in the creation of independent S-C and S-A associations and whether these associations resemble those created via implementation regarding durability and stability. In part B, we propose an investigation of top-down influences on S-R learning components. Part B1 investigates whether retrieval of instructed and implemented S-R associations depends on the context in which they are learnt and on the context in which they are retrieved. Part B2 aims at assessing the impact of reward when implementing or instructing S-R associations. There we break down the impact of each parameter known to lead to the build-up of reward expectation, on implemented and instructed S-C-A associations and question which of these components are driven by dopaminergic modulations. Consequently, this part will define which parts of S-R learning are truly dopamine-driven. Finally, since reward value may often depend on social settings, we enquire on the effect of prosocial reward on the acquisition of S-R associations both when they are merely instructed and trained. We expect that the results will significantly further our understanding of association-driven learning.

Project coordination

KAROLINA MOUTSOPOULOU (Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Lehrstuhl Psychologie III, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
LPP Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception

Help of the ANR 238,602 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2014 - 36 Months

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