The case of Watson vs. James: Effect-priming studies do not support ideomotor theory
SourcePLoS One, 8, 1, (2013), article e54094
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OW PWO [owi]
SW OZ BSI OLO
SubjectLearning and Plasticity; Social Development
In this paper we show that response facilitation in choice reaction tasks achieved by priming the (previously perceived) effect is based on stimulus-response associations rather than on response-effect associations. The reduced key-press response time is not accounted for by earlier established couplings between the key-press movement and its subsequent effect, but instead results from couplings between this effect and the contingent key-release movement. This key-release movement is an intrinsic part of the entire performed response action in each trial of a reaction-time task, and always spontaneously follows the key-press movement. Eliminating the key-release movement from the task leads to the disappearance of the response facilitation, which raises the question whether response-effect associations actually play a role in studies that use the effect-priming paradigm. Together the three experiments presented in the paper cast serious doubts on the claim that action-effect couplings are acquired and utilized by the cognitive system in the service of action selection, and that the priming paradigm by itself can provide convincing evidence for this claim. As a corollary, we question whether the related two-step model for the ideomotor principle holds a satisfying explanation for how anticipation of future states guides action planning. The results presented here may have profound implications for priming studies in other disciplines of psychology as well.
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