On the Assimilation of Instructions: Stimulus-response Associations are Implemented but not Stimulus-task Associations

Baptist Liefooghe, Frederick Verbruggen

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The assimilation of instructions consists of two stages. First, a task model is formed on the basis of instructions. Second, this model is implemented, resulting in highly accessible representations, which enable reflexive behavior that guides the application of instructions. Research frequently demonstrated that instructions can lead to automatic response activation, which indicates that stimulus-response associations can be implemented on the basis of a task model. However, instructions not only indicate how to respond (stimulus-response mappings) but also when (i.e., the conditions under which mappings apply). Accordingly, we tested whether instruction implementation leads both to the activation of stimulus-response associations and of associations between stimuli and the context or task in which the instructed stimulus-response mappings are relevant (i.e., stimulus-task associations). In four experiments, we measured if implementing newly instructed stimulus-response mappings also leads to bivalence costs (i.e., shorter latencies when a stimulus can only occur in one task compared to when it can occur in two tasks), which indicate the presence of stimulus-task associations. We consistently observed automatic response activation on the basis of instructions, but no bivalence costs. A discrepancy thus exists between information conveyed in an instructed task model and the elements of that task model that are implemented. We propose that future research on automatic effects of instructions should broaden its scope and focus both on the formation of an instructed task model and its subsequent implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive Control
  • Action
  • Attention


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