Current theories describe learning in terms of cognitive or associative mechanisms. To assess whether cognitive mechanisms interact with automaticity of associative processes we devised a shape-discrimination task in which participants received both explicit instructions and implicit information. Instructions further allowed for the inference that a first event would precede the target. Albeit irrelevant to respond, this event acted as response prime and implicit spatial cue (i.e. it predicted target location). To modulate cognitive involvement, in three experiments we manipulated modality and salience of the spatial cue. Results always showed evidence for a priming effect, confirming that the first stimulus was never ignored. More importantly, although participants failed to consciously recognize the association, responses to spatially cued trials became either slower or faster depending on salience of the first event. These findings provide an empirical demonstration that cognitive and associative learning mechanisms functionally co-exist and interact to regulate behaviour.
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