Distributional reaction time properties in the Eriksen task: marked differences or hidden similarities with the Simon task?


  • Burle Borís
  • Spieser Laure
  • Servant Mathieu
  • Hasbroucq Thierry

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In conflict tasks, the irrelevant stimulus attribute needs to be suppressed for the correct response to be produced. In the Simon task, earlier researchers have proposed that this suppression is the reason that, after an initial increase, the interference effect decreases for longer RTs, as reflected by late, negative-going delta plots. This view has been challenged by observations of positive-going delta plots, even for long RTs, in other conflict tasks, despite a similar necessity for suppression. For late negative-going delta plots to be interpreted as reflecting suppression, a necessary, although maybe not sufficient, condition is that similar patterns should be observed for other conflict tasks. We reasoned that a similar suppression could be present, but hidden, in the Eriksen flanker task. By recording and analyzing electromyograms of the muscles involved in response execution, we could compute delta plots separately for trials that elicited a sub-threshold incorrect response activation (partial error). Late negative-going delta plots were observable on partial-error trials, although they were weaker than for the Simon task, reducing the impact of this inversion on the overall distribution. We further showed that this pattern is modulated by time pressure. Those results indicate that mechanisms leading to negative-going delta plots, similar to those observed in the Simon task, are also at play in the Eriksen task. The link between negative-going delta plots and executive online control is discussed.

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