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The propositional nature of human associative learning

  • Chris J. Mitchell (a1), Jan De Houwer (a2) and Peter F. Lovibond (a3)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2009

The past 50 years have seen an accumulation of evidence suggesting that associative learning depends on high-level cognitive processes that give rise to propositional knowledge. Yet, many learning theorists maintain a belief in a learning mechanism in which links between mental representations are formed automatically. We characterize and highlight the differences between the propositional and link approaches, and review the relevant empirical evidence. We conclude that learning is the consequence of propositional reasoning processes that cooperate with the unconscious processes involved in memory retrieval and perception. We argue that this new conceptual framework allows many of the important recent advances in associative learning research to be retained, but recast in a model that provides a firmer foundation for both immediate application and future research.

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