Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Opposing Influences on Conflict-Driven Adaptation in the Eriksen Flanker Task

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Opposing Influences on Conflict-Driven Adaptation in the Eriksen Flanker Task

Article excerpt

Compatibility effects in conflict paradigms are reduced following incompatible trials, and this effect is referred to as conflict adaptation. A perplexing pattern exists, however, with conflict-driven adaptation emerging in several paradigms (e.g., Stroop, Simon) but not consistently in the Eriksen and Eriksen (1974) flanker task. The present experiments address the seemingly elusive presence of conflict adaptation in this task. Experiment 1 shows that a negative-priming-like slowing may be masking conflict adaptation in the flanker task. In Experiment 2, conflict adaptation was revealed when a larger stimulus set designed to reduce negative priming was implemented. Taken together, the findings indicate that a consideration of processes opposing conflict adaptation in the flanker task may help reconcile prior findings.

Over the past several decades, significant progress has been made in understanding the processes that support cognitive control, the goal-oriented coordination of cognitive resources. One major arena in which cognitive control has been investigated is in conflict paradigms, wherein a target response is competing with an opposing response that is habitual or experimentally primed but is incorrect. Of interest in the present article is the reduction in the magnitude of compatibility effects (i.e., the difference in reaction time [RT] between compatible [C] trials, wherein the to-be-attended information elicits the same response as the to-be-ignored information, and incompatible [I] trials, wherein competing responses are elicited by the tobe-attended and to-be-ignored information) that occurs following trials involving processing conflicts.

One interpretation of this reduction, the conflict monitoring account, centers on the notion that control is heightened when response conflict is detected on trial n21, thereby helping participants adapt to such conflict on the ensuing trial (i.e., conflict adaptation) (Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001). Supportive of this account is the RT advantage that is observed on incompatible trials that are preceded by incompatible (II) as opposed to compatible (CI) trials. This interpretation has been challenged, however, by findings that appear to favor a basic priming mechanism over a control mechanism. Current evidence favors the priming mechanism particularly for conflict adaptation effects in the Eriksen flanker task. In this article, we review this evidence and consider both conflict monitoring and priming accounts (see also Egner, 2007, for a review). We then offer an alternative theoretical analysis that proposes an interplay between basic priming and cognitive control mechanisms, and we report two experiments to test this framework.

The Eriksen Flanker Task and Conflict Adaptation

During the Eriksen flanker task, participants are asked to respond to a target stimulus that is surrounded by flanker stimuli on each side. In a variant of the task, a right- or left-pointing central arrow is surrounded by right- or leftpointing distractor arrows (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974). In the incompatible condition (e.g., <<<><<<), the flanker stimuli point in a direction opposite to the target stimulus; thus, the participant must resolve the conflict between the two potential responses. RTs and error rates tend to be inflated in the incompatible condition relative to a compatible condition (e.g., <<<<<<<) in which only one response is elicited. Such findings suggest that response conflict is detrimental to performance. Interestingly, though, when performance is examined as a function of both current trial type and previous trial type, it appears that response conflict can, under certain conditions, facilitate performance. Specifically, Gratton, Coles, and Donchin (1992) showed that the speed of responding on incompatible (conflict) trials that immediately followed another incompatible (conflict) trial (i. …

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