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Humans and other animals often infer spurious relationships from coincidental associations, and it is unknown if this could be achieved without reward conditioning. Here, we exposed monkeys to sets of images that had a hidden hierarchical order and to unordered sets that lacked an underlying structure. Monkeys treated the unordered sets as if they had a hierarchical order even under reward schedules that incentivized random choices. The results cannot be explained by simple associative mechanisms that account for other types of spurious learning, suggesting that when presented with random events animals conjure elaborate model-based structures.

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This page is a summary of: Superstitious learning of abstract order from random reinforcement, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2202789119.
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