Unintentional response priming from verbal action–effect instructions

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Psychological Research.


Action–effect learning is based on a theoretical concept that actions are associated with their perceivable consequences through bidirectional associations. Past research has mostly investigated how these bidirectional associations are formed through actual behavior and perception of the consequences. The present research expands this idea by investigating how verbally formulated action–effect instructions contribute to action–effect learning. In two online experiments (Exp. 1, N = 41, student sample; Exp. 2, N = 349, non-student sample), participants memorized a specific action–effect instruction before completing a speeded categorization task. We assessed the consequences of the instructions by presenting the instructed effect as an irrelevant stimulus in the classification task and compared response errors and response times for instruction-compatible and instruction-incompatible responses. Overall, we found evidence that verbal action–effect instructions led to associations between an action and perception (effect) that are automatically activated upon encountering the previously verbally presented effect. In addition, we discuss preliminary evidence suggesting that the order of the action–effect components plays a role; only instructions in a perception–action order showed the expected effect. The present research contributes evidence to the idea that action–effect learning is not exclusively related to actual behavior but also achievable through verbally formulated instructions, thereby providing a flexible learning mechanism that does not rely on specific actual experiences.