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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Temporal context and conditional associative learning

Oussama H Hamid1*, Andreas Wendemuth2 and Jochen Braun1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cognitive Biology, Institute of Biology, Otto-von-Guericke University, Leipziger Str. 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany

2 Department of Cognitive Systems, Institute of Electronics, Signal Processing, and Communications, Otto-von-Guericke University, Universitätsplatz 2, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:45  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-45

Published: 30 March 2010



We investigated how temporal context affects the learning of arbitrary visuo-motor associations. Human observers viewed highly distinguishable, fractal objects and learned to choose for each object the one motor response (of four) that was rewarded. Some objects were consistently preceded by specific other objects, while other objects lacked this task-irrelevant but predictive context.


The results of five experiments showed that predictive context consistently and significantly accelerated associative learning. A simple model of reinforcement learning, in which three successive objects informed response selection, reproduced our behavioral results.


Our results imply that not just the representation of a current event, but also the representations of past events, are reinforced during conditional associative learning. In addition, these findings are broadly consistent with the prediction of attractor network models of associative learning and their prophecy of a persistent representation of past objects.