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Under the influence of the environment: children’s responding invigorated and biased by predictive cues




Cues that signal motivationally significant consequences can elevate responding and bias choice. A task known as Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) has been used to assess the influence of these cues on independently trained responses, and to study the effect of drug-related and food-related cues on behavior in adult populations, but has not yet been employed in children. This study aimed to develop a simple computer task to study PIT in children. Participants, aged between 7 and 11 years, observed a screen in which different pairings of distinct cartoon images and specific outcomes were presented (images of foods/drinks in Experiment 1, and images of pets in Experiment 2). After this, the participants pressed two keys, each consistently reinforced with one of the two outcomes. Finally, the children pressed both keys in the absence of any outcome, and each cartoon image was presented periodically so that the effect of these cues on behavior could be measured. Experiment 1 showed that the cartoons’ presentations biased responding towards the key that was trained with the same outcome as the cartoon being presented, i.e. outcome- specific PIT. Experiment 2 replicated this finding, and also showed that a cartoon trained with an outcome different than those used to reinforce the responses, elevated performance of both responses, relative to a cartoon that was not paired with any outcome in training, i.e. general PIT. These findings are consistent with those reported in the adult population, and might be a useful tool to study the early development of maladaptive behaviors.


Alarcón, D., & Bonardi, C. (2020). Under the influence of the environment: children’s responding invigorated and biased by predictive cues. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 191, Article 104741.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 28, 2019
Online Publication Date Dec 3, 2019
Publication Date 2020-03
Deposit Date Oct 31, 2019
Publicly Available Date Dec 4, 2020
Journal Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
Electronic ISSN 1096-0457
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 191
Article Number 104741
Keywords Experimental and Cognitive Psychology; Developmental and Educational Psychology
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: Under the influence of the environment: Children’s responding invigorated and biased by predictive cues; Journal Title: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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