Action-effect binding by observational learning

Markus Paulus*, Wessel van Dam, Sabine Hunnius, Oliver Lindemann, Harold Bekkering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The acquisition of bidirectional action-effect associations plays a central role in the ability to intentionally control actions. Humans learn about actions not only through active experience, but also through observing the actions of others. In Experiment 1, we examined whether action-effect associations can be acquired by observational learning. To this end, participants observed how a model repeatedly pressed two buttons during an observation phase. Each of the buttonpresses led to a specific tone (action effect). In a subsequent test phase, the tones served as target stimuli to which the participants had to respond with buttonpresses. Reaction times were shorter if the stimulus-response mapping in the test phase was compatible with the action-effect association in the observation phase. Experiment 2 excluded the possibility that the impact of perceived action effects on own actions was driven merely by an association of spatial features with the particular tones. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the presence of an agent is necessary to acquire novel action-effect associations through observation. Altogether, the study provides evidence for the claim that bidirectional action-effect associations can be acquired by observational learning. Our findings are discussed in the context of the idea that the acquisition of action-effect associations through observation is an important cognitive mechanism subserving the human ability for social learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1022-1028
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


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