Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Differences in the Strength of Distractor Inhibition Do Not Affect Distractor-Response Bindings

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Differences in the Strength of Distractor Inhibition Do Not Affect Distractor-Response Bindings

Article excerpt

Published online: 12 November 2011

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2011

Abstract Distractor inhibition and distractor-response binding were investigated in two experiments by analyzing distractor repetition benefits and their interaction with response repetition effects in a sequential-priming paradigm. Distractor repetition benefits were larger for distractors that were incompatible with the to-be-executed response (task-related distractors) than for distractors that were not assigned to a response (neutral distractors), indicating that the strength of distractor inhibition was a function of response interference for the distractors. In contrast, the distractor-response bindings were found to be of equal strength for both task-related and neutral distractors. Thus, differences in the strengths of distractor inhibition did not affect the integration of distractors with responses into event files. Instead, our results suggest that distractor-response binding and distractor inhibition are independent mechanisms that are recruited for the automatization of behavior and action control.

Keywords Event files . Inhibition . Stimulus-response binding . Repetition priming . Episodic retrieval . Selective attention

In order to maneuver our way through the endless stream of information to perceive, offering infinite possibilities to behave in the world around us, our brain has to rely on a limited number of simple and efficient processes and mechanisms. One important mechanism is selective attention-that is, the ability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information. Attending and responding to only those aspects of our environment that are related to our goals, and not being distracted by stimuli that are irrelevant for or might interfere with the current task, is important for the topdown control of behavior (Tipper, 1992). Selective attention is commonly assumed to entail two components (Houghton & Tipper, 1994): Preferred processing of relevant information (activation) is accompanied by an active suppression of irrelevant, distracting information (inhibition). That is, once a stimulus is identified as being irrelevant, inhibition dampens the activation of the distractor representation (Houghton & Tipper, 1994) or blocks its access to the response system to reduce interference (Fuentes, Vivas, & Humphreys, 1999; Tipper & Cranston, 1985).

Yet not each and every aspect of our behavior can be intentionally controlled. Other mechanisms are therefore necessary that translate intentional actions, resulting from a controlled and resource-demanding processing of information, into efficient behavioral routines and habits. The retrieval of previous behavioral episodes plays an important role for the automatization of behavior: According to recent instance-based models, a specific stimulus can become integrated with a response that is executed in close temporal proximity to the occurrence of the stimulus. The compound of stimulus and response is then stored as an instance (Logan, 1988) or event file (Hommel, 1998, 2004) in episodic memory. Reencountering the stimulus of such an event file leads to retrieval of the entire episode from memory, including the associated response (e.g., Denkinger & Koutstaal, 2009; Hommel, 1998, 2004; Logan, 1988; Pösse, Waszak, & Hommel, 2006). This retrieval of previous actions operates fast and automatically, exerting efficient bottom-up control of behavior by establishing stimulus-driven behavioral routines.

Recent evidence has suggested that the storage and retrieval of event files is not restricted to relevant stimulus features. Even distractors can be integrated with responses, so that subsequent presentations of a distractor stimulus can also lead to retrieval of the response that was executed during a previous encounter with the distractor (Rothermund, Wentura, & De Houwer, 2005; see also Akçay & Hazeltine, 2007; Frings, Rothermund, & Wentura, 2007; Gibbons & Stahl, 2008; Mayr & Buchner, 2006; Mayr, Buchner, & Dentale, 2009). …

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