How the environment evokes actions that lead to different goals: the role of object multi-functionality in pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer

K. Qin*, H. Marien*, R. Custers, H. Aarts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Research shows that stimuli in the environment can trigger behavior via the activation of goal representations. This process can be tested in the Pavlovian-to-Instrumental Transfer (PIT) paradigm, where stimuli can only affect behavior through the activation of the representation of its desired outcome (i.e., the PIT effect). Previous research has demonstrated that the PIT effect is stronger when the goal is more desirable. While this research only looked at actions that have single outcomes (e.g., obtaining a snack to satisfy appetite), in the present paper, we reason that actions that are instrumental in obtaining outcomes that are desirable in multiple ways (e.g., obtaining a snack to satisfy one’s appetite, giving it to a friend, trading it for money) should produce stronger PIT effects. In two experiments, participants learned to perform left and right key presses to earn a snack, either framed as having a single function or multiple functions. Participants also learned to associate the two differently framed snacks with two cues. In a PIT test, they were required to press the keys as fast as possible upon exposure to the cues (i.e., the PIT effect). We found that cues associated with the multi-functional snack facilitated the actions that earned those snacks before, while cues associated with the single-functional snack did not facilitate such actions. We discuss these findings in the context of research on free choice and personal autonomy and how people appreciate the multi-functional nature of their goal-directed behavior in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3700–3713
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Psychology
Volume43
Issue number4
Early online date2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Keywords

  • Environmental cues
  • Goal-directed behavior
  • Multi-functional outcome
  • Outcome value
  • Single-functional outcome
  • Specific pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer

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