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A Systematic Breakdown of Stimulus-Response Associations


Andrea Kiesel

Prof. Dr. Andrea Kiesel   

Principal Investigator

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Christina Pfeuffer

Christina Pfeuffer        

PhD Candidate

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Stimulus-response (S-R) associations, formed by the repeated co-occurrence of stimuli and actions, are the basis of behavioural automaticity. Originally, S-R associations were seen as rather simplistic links between stimulus and response codes. Recently, however, various studies have demonstrated that S-R associations comprises at least two different components. Stimuli are associated both to the action made in response to them (stimulus-action (S-A) association, e.g., right finger press) and to the classification of the stimulus within the context of the current task (stimulus-classification (S-C) association, e.g., “small”). Interestingly, whereas behavioural flexibility would be greatest if compound associations between stimulus, classification, and action (S-C-A associations) were formed, so that a stimulus can trigger a task-specific automatic retrieval of the previously associated action, so far, we have only found indication of independent S-A and S-C associations. Within this project, we aim to further explore the structure of S-R associations by investigating their components under various conditions like, for instance, reward expectations and varying dopamine levels. Moreover, in order to explore the limits of associative learning, we are investigating the formation of S-A and S-C associations in the absence of action. That is, we explore whether mere instructions or coinciding information is sufficient for the formation of stable and durable associations. For instance, is it sufficient for humans to hear the word “right” while attending to a stimulus in order to form an S-A association which later on automatically affects their behaviour? Finally, we will investigate similarities and differences between associations formed in the presence and absence of action to further our understanding of the binding processes giving rise to S-R associations.

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