Learning about cues in their absence: evidence from flavour preferences and aversions

Q J Exp Psychol B. 2003 Feb;56(1):56-67. doi: 10.1080/02724990244000160.


A simple behavioural task may involve the presentation of two or more stimuli. Any learning that takes place in such a situation may be analysed in terms of the formation of an association between the central representations of those stimuli. Presumably performance based on this learning can occur because presentation of one stimulus will then activate the representations of other stimuli that were previously presented with it. To examine the role that these representations play in learning in and of themselves requires that the stimuli themselves are absent. A review of a number of flavour preference and aversion studies indicates that an associatively activated stimulus representation can support learning that is both similar to and the opposite of that maintained by the presentation of the stimulus itself. Which occurs is dependent upon the nature of the reinforcer and the temporal relationships between the training events. Although this pattern of results appears suggestive of separate learning rules, a reanalysis raises the possibility of an explanation in terms of a single associative system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Association Learning*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Taste*