Exploring a latent cause theory of classical conditioning

Samuel J. Gershman, Yael Niv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


We frame behavior in classical conditioning experiments as the product of normative statistical inference. According to this theory, animals learn an internal model of their environment from experience. The basic building blocks of this internal model are latent causes- explanatory constructs inferred by the animal that partition observations into coherent clusters. Generalization of conditioned responding from one cue to another arises from the animal's inference that the cues were generated by the same latent cause. Through a wide range of simulations, we demonstrate where the theory succeeds and where it fails as a general account of classical conditioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-268
Number of pages14
JournalLearning and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Bayes' rule
  • Classical conditioning
  • Particle filtering


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