Grounding cognitive control in associative learning

Elger Abrahamse, Senne Braem, Wim Notebaert, Tom Verguts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cognitive control covers a broad range of cognitive functions, but its research and theories typically remain tied to a single domain. Here we outline and review an associative learning perspective on cognitive control in which control emerges from associative networks containing perceptual, motor, and goal representations. Our review identifies 3 trending research themes that are shared between the domains of conflict adaptation, task switching, response inhibition, and attentional control: Cognitive control is context-specific, can operate in the absence of awareness, and is modulated by reward. As these research themes can be envisaged as key characteristics of learning, we propose that their joint emergence across domains is not coincidental but rather reflects a (latent) growth of interest in learning-based control. Associative learning has the potential for providing broad-scaled integration to cognitive control theory, and offers a promising avenue for understanding cognitive control as a self-regulating system without postulating an ill-defined set of homunculi. We discuss novel predictions, theoretical implications, and immediate challenges that accompany an associative learning perspective on cognitive control. (PsycINFO Database Record

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-728
Number of pages36
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Association Learning/physiology
  • Attention/physiology
  • Executive Function/physiology
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological


Dive into the research topics of 'Grounding cognitive control in associative learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this