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Lecture 05 (bonus) : Instrumental Action

Date given: Wednesday, 30th March 2022

Handout for all of Lecture 05 (bonus) as pdf. (This has the same content as the web version you are reading here.)


This optional extra lecture covers the dual-process theory of instrumental action.

We will not cover this material on the course, but Steve had already created it for another course, and it is also relevant to this one.


dual-process theory of instrumental action : instrumental action ‘is controlled by two dissociable processes: a goal-directed and an habitual process’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177).
instrumental action : An action is instrumental if it happens in order to bring about an outcome, as when you press a lever in order to obtain food. (In this case, obtaining food is the outcome, lever pressing is the action, and the action is instrumental because it occurs in order to bring it about that you obtain food.)
You may variations on this definition of instrumental in the literature. Dickinson (2016, p. 177) characterises instrumental actions differently: in place of the teleological ‘in order to bring about an outcome’, he stipulates that an instrumental action is one that is ‘controlled by the contingency between’ the action and an outcome. And de Wit & Dickinson (2009, p. 464) stipulate that ‘instrumental actions are learned’.


de Wit, S., & Dickinson, A. (2009). Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: A case for animalhuman translational models. Psychological Research PRPF, 73(4), 463–476.
Dickinson, A. (2016). Instrumental conditioning revisited: Updating dual-process theory. In J. B. Trobalon & V. D. Chamizo (Eds.), Associative learning and cognition (Vol. 51, pp. 177–195). Edicions Universitat Barcelona.

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