On the other side of the mirror: Priming in cognitive and social psychology Axel Cleeremans ULB 2015 09

Doyen, S., Klein, O., Simons, D., & Cleeremans, A. (2014). On the other side of the mirror: Priming in cognitive and social psychology. Social Cognition, 32 (Supplement: Understanding priming effects in social psychology), 12-32.


Over the past several years, two largely separate traditions have collided, leading to controversy over claims about priming. We describe and contrast the main accounts of priming effects in cognitive and social psychology, focusing especially on the role of awareness. In so doing, we consider one of the core points of contention, claims about the effects of subliminal priming. Whereas cognitive psychologists often are interested in exploring how priming operates with and without awareness, social psychologists more commonly assume subliminality in order to bolster claims about the automaticity of priming. We discuss the criteria necessary to claim that a stimulus was processed entirely without awareness, noting the challenges in meeting those criteria. Finally, we identify three sources of conflict between the fields: awareness, replicability, and the nature of the underlying processes. We close by proposing resolutions for each of them. "

Nonconscious learning from crowded sequences Axel Cleeremans ULB 2013 11

Atas, A., Faivre, N., Timmermans, B., Cleeremans, A., & Kouider, S. (in press). Nonconscious learning from crowded sequences. Psychological Science.

Can people learn complex information without conscious awareness? Implicit learning—learning without awareness of what has been learned—has been the focus of intense investigation over the last 50 years. However, it remains controversial whether complex knowledge can be learned implicitly. In the research reported here, we addressed this challenge by asking participants to differentiate between sequences of symbols they could not perceive consciously. Using an operant-conditioning task, we showed that participants learned to associate distinct sequences of crowded (nondiscriminable) symbols with their respective monetary outcomes (reward or punishment). Overall, our study demonstrates that sensitivity to sequential regularities can arise through the nonconscious temporal integration of perceptual information.

New frontiers in the rubber hand experiment: When a robotic hand becomes one’s own Axel Cleeremans ULB 2014 12

Caspar, E., De Beir, A., Magalhaes de Saldanha Da Gama, P., Yernaux, F., Cleeremans, A. & Vanderborght, B.
Behaviour Research Methods - doi:10.3758/s13428-014-0498-3

The rubber hand illusion is an experimental para- digm in which participants consider a fake hand to be part of their body. This paradigm has been used in many domains of psychology (i.e., research on pain, body ownership, agency) and is of clinical importance. The classic rubber hand para- digm nevertheless suffers from limitations, such as the ab- sence of active motion or the reliance on approximate mea- surements, which makes strict experimental conditions diffi- cult to obtain. Here, we report on the development of a novel technology—a robotic, user- and computer-controllable hand—that addresses many of the limitations associated with the classic rubber hand paradigm. Because participants can actively control the robotic hand, the device affords higher realism and authenticity. Our robotic hand has a comparative- ly low cost and opens up novel and innovative methods. In order to validate the robotic hand, we have carried out three experiments. The first two studies were based on previous research using the rubber hand, while the third was specific to the robotic hand. We measured both sense of agency and ownership. Overall, results show that participants experienced a “robotic hand illusion” in the baseline conditions. Furthermore, we also replicated previous results about agency and ownership.

Neural coding for instruction-based task sets in human Frontoparietal and Visual Cortex Marcel Brass UGENT 2016 05

Muhle-Karbe, P.S., Duncan, J., De Baene, W., Mitchell, D.J., & Brass, M. (2016). Neural Coding for Instruction-Based Task Sets in Human Frontoparietal and Visual Cortex. Cerebral Cortex.

Task preparation has traditionally been thought to rely upon persistent representations of instructions that permit their execution after delays. Accumulating evidence suggests, however, that accurate retention of task knowledge can be insufficient for successful performance. Here, we hypothesized that instructed facts would be organized into a task set; a temporary coding scheme that proactively tunes sensorimotor pathways according to instructions to enable highly efficient “reflex-like” performance. We devised a paradigm requiring either implementation or memorization of novel stimulus–response mapping instructions, and used multivoxel pattern analysis of neuroimaging data to compare neural coding of instructions during the pretarget phase. Although participants could retain instructions under both demands, we observed striking differences in their representation. To-be-memorized instructions could only be decoded from mid-occipital and posterior parietal cortices, consistent with previous work on visual short-term memory storage. In contrast, to-be-implemented instructions could also be decoded from frontoparietal “multiple-demand” regions, and dedicated visual areas, implicated in processing instructed stimuli. Neural specificity in the latter moreover correlated with performance speed only when instructions were prepared, likely reflecting the preconfiguration of instructed decision circuits. Together, these data illuminate how the brain proactively optimizes performance, and help dissociate neural mechanisms supporting task control and short-term memory storage.

MoraisIn press Régine Kolinsky ULB 2018 04  
Morais2018LiteracyDemocracy Régine Kolinsky ULB 2018 04  
Moors, A., Boddez, Y., & De Houwer, J. (2017). The power of goal-directed processes in the causation of emotional and other actions. Emotion Review, 9, 310-318. Jan De Houwer UGENT 2018 03

Standard dual process models in the action domain postulate that stimulus-driven
processes are responsible for suboptimal behavior because they take them to be rigid and
automatic and therefore the default. We propose an alternative dual process model in which
goal-directed processes are the default instead. We then transfer the dual process logic from
the action domain to the emotion domain. This reveals that emotional action tendencies are
often attributed to stimulus-driven processes. Our alternative model submits that emotional
action tendencies can also be caused by goal-directed processes. We evaluate the type of
empirical evidence required for validating our model and we consider implications of our
model for behavior change, encouraging strategies focused on the expectancies and values of
action outcomes.

Moors A., Boddez Y. (2017). Author reply: Emotional episodes are action episodes. Emotion Review, 9 (4), 353-354. Yannick Boddez KUL 2018 04  
Meulders A., Boddez Y., Blanco F., Van Den Houte M., Vlaeyen J. (2018). Reduced selective learning in fibromyalgia patients versus healthy controls. Pain. Yannick Boddez KUL 2018 04  
Mertens, G., Van Dessel, P., & De Houwer, J. (2018). The contextual malleability of approach-avoidance training effects: Approaching or avoiding fear conditioned stimuli modulates effects of approach-avoidance training. Cognition & Emotion, 32, 341-349. Jan De Houwer UGENT 2018 03

Previous research showed that the repeated approaching of one stimulus and avoiding of another
stimulus typically leads to more positive evaluations of the former stimuli. In the current study,
we examined whether approach and avoidance training (AAT) effects on evaluations of neutral
stimuli can be modulated by introducing a regularity between the approach-avoidance actions
and a positive or negative (feared) stimulus. In an AAT task, participants repeatedly approached
one neutral non-word and avoided another neutral non-word. Half of the participants also
approached a negative fear-conditioned stimulus (CS+) and avoided a conditioned safe stimulus
(CS-). The other half of the participants avoided the CS+ and approached the CS-. Whereas
participants in the avoid CS+ condition exhibited a typical AAT effect, participants in the
approach CS+ condition exhibited a reversed AAT effect (i.e., they evaluated the approached
neutral non-word as more negative than the avoided non-word). These findings provide evidence
for the malleability of the AAT effect when strongly valenced stimuli are approached or avoided.
We discuss the practical and theoretical implications of our findings.

Mertens, G., & De Houwer, J. (in press). Can threat information bias fear learning? Some tentative results and methodological considerations. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology. Jan De Houwer UGENT 2018 03

Whereas it is widely recognized that both verbal threat information and stimulus pairings
can install strong and persistent fear, few studies have addressed the interaction between these
two pathways of fear. According to the expectancy bias of Davey (1992, 1997), verbal
information can install expectancy biases for aversive events that can result in facilitated fear
learning through stimulus pairings and can delay extinction of fear. However, these predictions
of the expectancy bias account have not been explored fully. Following up on two earlier studies
(Field & Storksen-Coulson, 2007; Ugland, Dyson, & Field, 2013), we investigated the impact of
prior threat information on fear acquisition, extinction and reinstatement. To this aim,
participants received instructions about four unfamiliar animals, two of which that were
described as dangerous whereas the other two were described as harmless. One animal of each
pair was subsequently paired with an electric stimulus. Our results indicated that threat
information resulted in stronger fear responses prior to fear conditioning and in delayed
extinction of fear. However, these effects of instructions were not very pronounced and not
found on all measures of fear. We discuss several methodological and procedural considerations
that may modulate the effects of (verbally installed) expectancy biases.

Maes, E., Vanderoost, E., D’Hooge, R., De Houwer, J., & Beckers, T. (2017). Individual difference factors in the learning and transfer of patterning discriminations. Frontiers in Psychology. 8:1262. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01262 Jan De Houwer UGENT 2018 03

In an associative patterning task, some people seem to focus more on learning an
overarching rule, whereas others seem to focus on acquiring specific relations between the
stimuli and outcomes involved. Building on earlier work, we further investigated which
cognitive factors are involved in feature- versus rule-based learning and generalization. To this
end, we measured participants’ tendency to generalize according to the rule of opposites after
training on negative and positive patterning problems (i.e., A+/B+/AB- and C-/D-/CD+), their
tendency to attend to global aspects or local details of stimuli, their systemizing disposition and
their score on the Raven intelligence test. Our results suggest that while intelligence might have
some influence on patterning learning and generalization, visual processing style and
systemizing disposition do not. We discuss our findings in the light of previous observations
on patterning.

Maes, E., Krypotos, A. M., Boddez, Y., Alfei, J. M, D’Hooge, R., De Houwer, R., & Beckers, T. (in press). Failures to replicate blocking are surprising and informative – Reply to Soto (in press). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Jan De Houwer UGENT 2018 03

The blocking effect has inspired numerous associative learning theories and is widely cited in
the literature. We recently reported a series of 15 experiments that failed to obtain a blocking effect
in rodents. Based on those consistent failures, we claimed that there is a lack of insight into the
boundary conditions for blocking. In his commentary, Soto (in press) argues that contemporary
associative learning theory does provide a specific boundary condition for the occurrence of blocking,
namely the use of same- versus different-modality stimuli. Given that in ten of our 15 experiments
same-modality stimuli were used, he claims that our failure to observe a blocking effect is
unsurprising. We cannot but disagree with that claim, because of theoretical, empirical, and
statistical problems with his analysis. We also address two other possible reasons for a lack of
blocking that are referred to in Soto’s (in press) analysis, related to generalization and salience, and
dissect the potential importance of both. While Soto’s (in press) analyses raises a number of
interesting points, we see more merit in an empirically guided analysis and call for empirical testing
of boundary conditions on blocking.

Maes, E., Boddez, Y., Alfei, J. M., Krypotos, A. M., D’Hooge, R., De Houwer, J., & Beckers, T. (2016). The elusive nature of the blocking effect: 15 failures to replicate. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, e49-e71. Jan De Houwer UGENT 2018 03

With the discovery of the blocking effect, learning theory took a huge leap forward, because
blocking provided a crucial clue that surprise is what drives learning. This in turn stimulated the
development of novel association-formation theories of learning. Eventually, the ability to explain
blocking became nothing short of a touchstone for the validity of any theory of learning, including
propositional and other non-associative theories. The abundance of publications reporting a
blocking effect and the importance attributed to it suggest that it is a robust phenomenon. Yet, in
the current paper we report fifteen failures to observe a blocking effect despite the use of
procedures that are highly similar or identical to those used in published studies. Those failures raise
doubts regarding the canonical nature of the blocking effect and call for a reevaluation of the central
status of blocking in theories of learning. They may also illustrate how publication bias influences
our perspective towards the robustness and reliablilty of seemingly established effects in the
psychological literature.

Luyten L., Boddez Y., Hermans D. (2015). Positive appraisal style: the mental immune system?. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, e112. Yannick Boddez KUL 2015 02  


Mechanisms of conscious and unconscious learning