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This week we will deepen our understanding of the dual-process theory of instrumental action, examine some evidence supporting it (which will involve becoming familiar with some experimental paradigms), and consider how this theory might complicate attempts to solve The Problem of Action.

By the end of this lecture you should understand how to disentangle the contributions of habitual and goal-directed processes in producing an action. You should also be familiar with some evidence for the existence of habitual processes in humans. And you should be able to say how their existence leads to an objection to standard philosophical attempts to solve The Problem of Action.

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This lecture is linked to one of the questions set for your first assignment, the short essay. The question is how, if at all, discoveries in the behavioural sciences should inform attempts to solve The Problem of Action.

This lecture depends on you having studied some sections from a previous lecture:

For the minimum course of study, consider only these sections:

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dual-process theory of instrumental action : Instrumental action ‘is controlled by two dissociable processes: a goal-directed and an habitual process’ (Dickinson, 2016, p. 177). (See instrumental action.)
The Problem of Action : What distinguishes your actions from things that merely happen to you? (According to Frankfurt (1978, p. 157), ‘The problem of action is to explicate the contrast between what an agent does and what merely happens to him.’)


Dickinson, A. (2016). Instrumental conditioning revisited: Updating dual-process theory. In J. B. Trobalon & V. D. Chamizo (Eds.), Associative learning and cognition (Vol. 51, pp. 177–195). Edicions Universitat Barcelona.
Frankfurt, H. G. (1978). The problem of action. American Philosophical Quarterly, 15(2), 157–162.