Adapting to Stimulus–Response Contingencies Without Noticing Them

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Abstract

Episodic stimulus–response (S–R) bindings emerge whenever a response is executed in temporal proximity to a stimulus and they are retrieved from memory by repeating the stimulus on a later occasion. To examine whether retrieval of S–R bindings is sensitive to contextual influences, we manipulated contingencies between stimulus repetitions and response repetitions. In a sequential priming paradigm, stimulus repetitions were either predictive of response repetitions (positive contingency) or response changes (negative contingency) or were orthogonal to the response relation (no contingency). Results revealed that compared to the orthogonal condition, S–R binding and retrieval effects were larger under positive contingency but were reduced under negative contingency. The modulating effect of contingency on the strength of S–R binding and retrieval processes was not mediated by contingency awareness. These findings implicate that S–R binding and retrieval processes are implicitly tuned to adapt to contextual affordances that either promote or hinder the use of S–R bindings for efficient action regulation.

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