Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Automaticity in Motor Sequence Learning Does Not Impair Response Inhibition

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Automaticity in Motor Sequence Learning Does Not Impair Response Inhibition

Article excerpt

We examined the relationship between automaticity and response inhibition in the serial reaction time (SRT) task to test the common assertion that automatic behavior is ballistic. Participants trained for 3 h on the SRT, using blocks of a second-order conditional sequence interleaved with random blocks. Automaticity was measured using a concurrent secondary letter-counting task. Response inhibition was measured using a stop-signal task. RTs decreased with training, with a greater decrease for sequenced versus random blocks. Training correlated with a decreased RT cost to performing the secondary task concurrently with the SRT, indicating the development of automaticity. Crucially, there was no change in the ability to inhibit responses at the end of training, even in individuals who showed no dual-task interference. These results demonstrate that the ability to inhibit a motor response does not decrease with automaticity, suggesting that some aspects of automatic behavior are not ballistic.

Extensive practice on cognitive or motor tasks is associated with a decreased need for attention and cognitive control, referred to as automaticity. Experimentally, automaticity can be indexed as the cost of performing a secondary task; whereas novel performance is slowed by a concurrent secondary task, practiced performance can proceed without dual-task costs (Logan, 1979; Posner & Snyder, 1975). A fundamental but heretofore unanswered question concerns the relationship between automaticity and control: Is automatic behavior less controllable?

Schneider and Shiffrin (1977) asserted that "once learned, an automatic process is difficult to suppress, to modify, or to ignore" (p. 2). This is because stimulusresponse mappings become stored relatively permanently; activating a certain stimulus will, therefore, automatically initiate its associated response, a process that simultaneously improves performance and impairs the ability to make alternate responses. In support of their theory, Schneider and Shiffrin found that consistent stimulus-response mapping resulted in learning and automaticity accompanied by difficulty in overriding learned responses, whereas inconsistent stimulusresponse mapping did not produce automaticity or impairment in overriding responses (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). They concluded that the lack of attentional and cognitive resources allotted to automatic behaviors made inhibition of the automatic response more difficult than that of the controlled task.

In contrast to these claims for the ballistic nature of automatic behavior, a study of expert typists by Logan (1982) suggested that automatic behavior might be highly controllable. Logan (1982) operationalized control in terms of response inhibition using the stop-signal paradigm, which has been used to explore executive control in a variety of contexts (see reviews by Lijffijt, Kenemans, Verbaten, & van Engeland, 2005; Logan, 1994). In this paradigm, participants receive a "stop signal," which may be a tone or a visual signal, on a small proportion of trials while performing a primary task that is often, but not always, a two-choice reaction time (RT) task. Other primary tasks include continuous tasks such as typing, speaking, or arm movements (Logan, 1994). The stop signal tells participants to suppress their current response. Under the assumption of a race between go and stop processes (cf. Band, van der Molen, & Logan, 2003; Logan & Cowan, 1984), stop-signal RT is a measure of the time it takes for participants to inhibit their response.

Typing expertise has been associated with a number of variables, such as increased eye-hand span (the number of letters "previewed" while typing), reduced variability in the speed of typing certain letters, and increased speed at initiating words (Salthouse, 1984). Each of these changes intuitively seems to make stopping typing more difficult. For example, eye-hand span reflects a greater ability to prepare to type more letters in advance. …

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