Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Congruency Sequence Effects and Cognitive Control

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Congruency Sequence Effects and Cognitive Control

Article excerpt

Congruency effects in selective attention tasks are subject to sequential modulation: They are smaller following an incongruent stimulus than following a congruent one. This congruency sequence effect has been interpreted as reflecting conflict-driven adjustments in cognitive control (conflict adaptation) or, alternatively, episodic memory effects of stimulus-response association (feature integration). The present article critically reviews support for these rival accounts in the experimental literature and discusses the implications thereof for assessing behavioral and neural signatures of cognitive control processes. It is argued that both conflict adaptation and feature integration contribute to the congruency sequence effect but that their respective contributions can be isolated experimentally. Studies that have pursued this isolation strategy have gained important insights into cognitive control processes. Finally, other factors, such as expectancies, may also contribute to the congruency sequence effect, and thus their potential role needs to be carefully examined and, if found significant, integrated into current models of cognitive control.

In recent years, medial and lateral prefrontal cortices have been hypothesized to play a crucial role in cognitive control, the flexible regulation of behavior in the pursuit of internal goals (Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001; Miller & Cohen, 2001; Posner & DiGirolamo, 1998; Ridderinkhof, Ullsperger, Crone, & Nieuwenhuis, 2004). Cognitive control is essential in situations in which routine behavior does not produce satisfactory performance-for example, when prepotent response tendencies have to be overcome. Therefore, performance on congruency tasks, such as the Stroop task (Stroop, 1935), has long been considered a useful model for probing controlled processing (Cohen, Dunbar, & McClelland, 1990; Cohen, Servan-Schreiber, & McClelland, 1992). In particular, it has been argued that first-order congruency sequence effects-that is, when the effect is found to be smaller following an incongruent stimulus than following a congruent one-provide a direct window onto online adjustments in cognitive control (Botvinick et al., 2001). In turn, neuroimaging studies have harnessed the congruency sequence effect to tease apart brain regions putatively involved in different aspects of cognitive control operations (Botvinick, Nystrom, Fissell, Carter, & Cohen, 1999; Egner, Delano, & Hirsch, 2007; Egner & Hirsch, 2005a, 2005b; Etkin, Egner, Peraza, Kandel, & Hirsch, 2006; Kerns, 2006; Kerns et al., 2004; Stürmer & Leuthold, 2003; Stürmer, Leuthold, Soetens, Schröter, & Sommer, 2002; for a review, see Botvinick, Cohen, & Carter, 2004).

However, the congruency sequence effect is susceptible to alternative explanations that do not require the contribution of cognitive control mechanisms (Hommel, Proctor, & Vu, 2004; Mayr, Awh, & Laurey, 2003). These alternative explanations have introduced considerable uncertainty into the interpretation of this effect and its associated neuroimaging data and have triggered a fast-growing experimental literature aimed at clarifying the psychological determinants of congruency sequence effects, which has yielded mixed conclusions (Burle, Allain, Vidal, & Hasbroucq, 2005; Nieuwenhuis et al., 2006; Notebaert, Gevers, Verbruggen, & Liefooghe, 2006; Ullsperger, Bylsma, & Botvinick, 2005; Verbruggen, Notebaert, Liefooghe, & Vandierendonck, 2006; Wendt, Kluwe, & Peters, 2006; Wühr, 2005; Wühr & Ansorge, 2005). The present article provides a critical evaluation of the implications of this literature for assessing behavioral and neural signatures of cognitive control processes. First, different types of congruency effects, the congruency sequence effect, and the two main theoretical accounts thereof-namely, conflict adaptation and feature integration-are introduced. …

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