Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Conflict Adaptation Effect: It's Not Just Priming

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Conflict Adaptation Effect: It's Not Just Priming

Article excerpt

Analyses of trial sequences in flanker tasks have revealed cognitive adaptation, reflected in a reduced interference effect following incompatible trials (Gratton, Coles, & Donchin, 1992). These effects have been explained on the basis of the response conflict monitoring model of Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, and Cohen (2001), who proposed that preceding response conflict triggers stronger top-down control, leading to performance improvements on subsequent trials of similar context. A recent study (Mayr, Awh, & Laurey, 2003) has challenged this account, suggesting that the behavioral adaptations are confined to trial sequences of exact trial repetitions and can therefore be explained by repetition priming. Here, we present two experiments in which the sequential dependency effect was present even on trial sequences that did not involve stimulus repeats. We discuss the data with respect to the conflict-monitoring and repetition-priming accounts.

In a recent work, Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, and Cohen (2001) proposed that cognitive control is modulated, in part, on the basis of a process referred to as response conflict monitoring. According to this account, increased top-down control over information processing is triggered by the occurrence of response competition. In addition to certain neuroscientific data, the conflict monitoring theory is based on a set of behavioral phenomena that appear to reflect online reactive adjustments in control. A prominent example is provided by Gratton, Coles, and Donchin (1992), who reported evidence of a sequential dependency effect in the Eriksen flanker task (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974). The flanker task calls for a left or right response based on the identity of a centrally presented target symbol. This target is surrounded by distractor flanker symbols, which themselves map to responses that are either compatible or incompatible with the required response. Gratton et al. investigated the effects of trial-type transitions (compatible-compatible [C-C], compatible-incompatible [C-I], incompatible-compatible [I-C], and incompatible-incompatible [I-I] ) and showed that the interference effect (reaction time [RT] for incompatible trials minus RT for compatible trials) was reduced following incompatible trials. The occurrence of an incompatible trial thus appeared to enhance target processing and/or suppress flanker processing on the following trial. As Botvinick and colleagues argued (Botvinick et al., 2001; Botvinick, Nystrom, Fissell, Carter, & Cohen, 1999), this finding appears to provide an example of the reactive adjustments in control posited by the conflict monitoring hypothesis: Incompatible trials involve response conflict, and it is this that causes them to be associated with a subsequent intensification of top-down control.

A challenge to this account was recently put forth by Mayr, Awh, and Laurey (2003). They suggested that the effect reported by Gratton et al. (1992) might simply reflect repetition priming. Note that one way of describing that effect is as a shortening of RTs in trials in which the stimulus type (compatible vs. incompatible) is the same as it was on the preceding trial. Note further that in the usual version of the task, such trial type repeats also frequently involve a repetition of the entire stimulus (e.g., >><>>[arrow right]>><>>). Taking both of these points into account, Mayr et al. suggested that stimulus repetition itself might be responsible for the faster RTs seen with trial type repeats, simply as a consequence of repetition priming.

Mayr et al. (2003) presented evidence for this account from two experiments. In the first, participants performed a version of the flanker task using left- and right-facing arrow heads. Although their performance displayed the effect originally described by Gratton et al. (1992), this effect was limited to trials in which the target item was the same as it was on the preceding trial. …

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