Two-factor Theory, the Actor-Critic Model, and Conditioned Avoidance

Learn Behav. 2010 Feb;38(1):50-67. doi: 10.3758/LB.38.1.50.


Two-factor theory (Mowrer, 1947, 1951, 1956) remains one of the most influential theories of avoidance, but it is at odds with empirical findings that demonstrate sustained avoidance responding in situations in which the theory predicts that the response should extinguish. This article shows that the well-known actor-critic model seamlessly addresses the problems with two-factor theory, while simultaneously being consistent with the core ideas that underlie that theory. More specifically, the article shows that (1) the actor-critic model bears striking similarities to two-factor theory and explains all of the empirical phenomena that two-factor theory explains, in much the same way, and (2) there are subtle but important differences between the actor-critic model and two-factor theory, which result in the actor-critic model predicting the persistence of avoidance responses that is found empirically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Escape Reaction / physiology
  • Fear / physiology
  • Markov Chains
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Psychological Theory