Johnsrude, Owen, Zhao, and White (1999) demonstrated that evaluative conditioning (EC) can occur even while participants conduct a working memory task. This is consistent with claims that EC can occur outside awareness, and hence is an automatic process. In their study, three abstract patterns were paired differentially with a candy reinforcer: 90, 50, or 10%. On reinforced trials a red ball was presented in one of three locations on a computer screen. Participants were instructed to keep a tally for each location. We argue that if EC is automatic, then it will not consume cognitive/attentional resources, and hence co-occurrence of red ball and reinforcer should be irrelevant. Results from four experiments indicate that learning is only evident when the red ball and reinforcer co-occur or when the complexity of the working memory task is reduced. Together, the results suggest that EC is governed by specific attentional constraints on working memory. This interpretation questions the automatic nature of EC.
Bibliographical notePublisher: Elsevier Science
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