Outcome unpredictability affects outcome-specific motivation to learn

Genisius Hartanto, Evan Livesey, Oren Griffiths, Harald Lachnit, Anna Thorwart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Outcome predictability effects in associative learning paradigms describe better learning about outcomes with a history of greater predictability in a similar but unrelated task compared with outcomes with a history of unpredictability. Inspired by the similarities between this phenomenon and the effect of uncontrollability in learned helplessness paradigms, here, we investigate whether learning about unpredictability decreases outcome-specific motivation to learn. We used a modified version of the allergy task, in which participants first observe the foods eaten by a fictitious patient, followed by allergic reactions that he subsequently suffers, some of which are perfectly predictable and others unpredictable. We then implemented an active learning method in a second task in which participants could only learn about either the previously predictable or unpredictable outcomes on each trial. At the beginning of each trial, participants had to decide whether they wanted to learn about one outcome category or the other. Participants at the beginning of the second task chose to learn about the previously predictable outcomes first and to learn about the previously unpredictable outcomes in later trials. This showed that unpredictability affects future motivation to learn in other circumstances. Interestingly, we did not find any sign of outcome predictability effect at the end of the second phase, suggesting that participants compensate for biased outcome sampling when making overt choices in ways that they may not when learning about both outcome categories simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1648-1656
Number of pages9
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
Early online date4 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Active learning
  • Learned helplessness
  • Outcome predictability
  • Outcome-specific motivation
  • Predictive learning


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