The general goal of WP2 is to contribute to our understanding of the processes that govern seemingly basic associative learning phenomena in animals and in developing and adult humans. Animal learning research has often been inspired by a desire to trace elementary learning processes in a pure form, uncontaminated by humans’ ability for deliberate thought and analytical reasoning. The implicit assumption in much of this research tradition is that the performance of animals, lacking complex language and consciousness, demonstrates how far a cognitive system can get without the capacity for symbolic, conscious thought. Similarly, developmental studies on causal learning in children often assume that causal learning performance in pre-school children must reflect a pre-causal stage of cognitive functioning, as such children would lack true insight into cause- effect mechanisms. Again then, performance in these children should reflect a more fundamental level of low-level association formation. Here, in the first two proposed lines of research, we will challenge these fundamental assumptions with respect to both animal conditioning and children’s causal learning. In two further lines of research, we will investigate the inverse claim that under some circumstances, conditioning can take place without awareness in the complete absence of awareness in adult humans, — an even more controversial topic.


Mechanisms of conscious and unconscious learning