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Psychol Res. 2009 Jul;73(4):463-76. doi: 10.1007/s00426-009-0230-6. Epub 2009 Apr 7.

Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: a case for animal-human translational models.

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Department of Psychology, Amsterdam Center for the Study of Adaptive Control in Brain and Behavior (Acacia), University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Associative accounts of goal-directed action, developed in the fields of human ideomotor action and that of animal learning, can capture cognitive belief-desire psychology of human decision-making. Whereas outcome-response accounts can account for the fact that the thought of a goal can call to mind the action that has previously procured this goal, response-outcome accounts capture decision-making processes that start out with the consideration of possible response alternatives followed only in the second instance by evaluation of their consequences. We argue that while the outcome-response mechanism plays a crucial role in response priming effects, the response-outcome mechanism is particularly important for action selection on the basis of current needs and desires. We therefore develop an integrative account that encapsulates these two routes of action selection within the framework of the associative-cybernetic model. This model has the additional benefit of providing mechanisms for the incentive modulation of goal-directed action and for the development of behavioural autonomy, and therefore provides a promising account of the multi-faceted process of animal as well as human instrumental decision-making.

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