The Acquisition of Simple Associations as Observed in Color–Word Contingency Learning

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Abstract

Three experiments investigated the learning of simple associations in a color–word contingency task. Participants responded manually to the print colors of 3 words, with each word associated strongly to 1 of the 3 colors and weakly to the other 2 colors. Despite the words being irrelevant, response times to high-contingency stimuli and to low-contingency stimuli quickly diverged. This high–low difference remained quite constant over successive blocks of trials, evidence of stable contingency learning. Inclusion of a baseline condition—an item having no color–word contingency—permitted separation of the contingency learning effect into 2 components: a cost due to low contingency and a benefit due to high contingency. Both cost and benefit were quick to acquire, quick to extinguish, and quick to reacquire. The color–word contingency task provides a simple way to directly study the learning of associations.

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