Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

When the Rules Are Reversed: Action-Monitoring Consequences of Reversing Stimulus-Response Mappings

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

When the Rules Are Reversed: Action-Monitoring Consequences of Reversing Stimulus-Response Mappings

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 July 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract How does switching tasks affect our ability to monitor and adapt our behavior? Largely independent lines of research have examined how individuals monitor their actions and adjust to errors, on the one hand, and how they are able to switch between two or more tasks, on the other. Few studies, however, have explored how these two aspects of cognitive-behavioral flexibility interact. That is, how individuals monitor their actions when task rules are switched remains unknown. The present study sought to address this question by examining the action-monitoring consequences of response switching-a form of task switching that involves switching the response that is associated with a particular stimulus. We recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs) while participants performed a modified letter flanker task in which the stimulus-response (S-R) mappings were reversed between blocks. Specifically, we examined three ERPs-the N2, the error-related negativity (ERN), and the error positivity (Pe)-that have been closely associated with action monitoring. The findings revealed that S-R reversal blocks were associated with dynamic alterations of action-monitoring brain activity: the N2 and ERN were enhanced, whereas the Pe was reduced. Moreover, participants were less likely to adapt their posterror behavior in S-R reversal blocks. Taken together, these data suggest that response switching results in early enhancements of effortful control mechanisms (N2 and ERN) at the expense of reductions in later response evaluation processes (Pe). Thus, when rules change, our attempts at control are accompanied by less attention to our actions.

Keywords Cognitive control . Event-related potentials . ERP . Event processing

In order to adapt to changing conditions, humans must be able to successfully modify their behavior. Overriding the rules that we adhere to on a daily basis requires substantial attention and effort (Gopher, Armony, & Greenshpan, 2000). For example, to someone who is accustomed to driving on the right side of the road, driving in the United Kingdom for the first time can be particularly challenging, as the "rules of the road" are reversed. To adjust to the unfamiliar flow of traffic, the driver must focus on the current rules and/or successfully inhibit the urge to drive on the side that he or she is most accustomed to. As more attentional resources become devoted to monitoring for new conflicts and inhibiting old habits, fewer resources are available to consciously evaluate the actual driving performance. Thus, the driver may be less aware of slip-ups in this heightened conflict-monitoring state. Previous studies from different research perspectives have investigated how individuals monitor their behaviors and how they adapt to rule reversals. However, no previous study has investigated how individuals are able to monitor their responses in the context of changing response rule conditions. This is the focus of the present study. Here, we briefly review relevant findings from actionmonitoring and task-switching research before describing an integrative experiment that taps into both areas.

Action monitoring

Action monitoring involves recognizing when conflicts and errors occur and implementing appropriate behavioral adjustments to overcome them (e.g., Ridderinkhof, Ullsperger, Crone, & Nieuwenhuis, 2004). That is, it is focused on how individuals keep track of their actions. The conflict-monitoring theory suggests that the presence of "conflict" in the information-processing stream triggers strategic adjustments in cognitive control that serve to reduce conflict in subsequent performance (Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001). In this context, conflict is operationalized as the simultaneous activation of multiple mutually exclusive response tendencies (Botvinick, Cohen, & Carter, 2004). For example, incongruent trials (e. …

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