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19-12-2014 | Original Article | Uitgave 1/2016

Psychological Research 1/2016

The next trial will be conflicting! Effects of explicit congruency pre-cues on cognitive control

Psychological Research > Uitgave 1/2016
Julie M. Bugg, Alicia Smallwood


The dual mechanisms of control account proposed a role for proactive and reactive mechanisms in minimizing or resolving interference in conflict tasks. Proactive mechanisms are activated in advance of stimulus onset and lead to preparatory biasing of attention in a goal-directed fashion. Reactive mechanisms are triggered post-stimulus onset. Using an explicit, trial-by-trial pre-cueing procedure in a 4-choice color-word Stroop task, we investigated effects of congruency pre-cues on cognitive control. Under conditions of stimulus uncertainty (i.e., each word was associated with multiple, equally probable responses), pre-cue benefits were observed on incongruent trials when cues were 100 % valid but not when they were 75 % valid. These benefits were selectively found at the longest cue-to-stimulus interval (2,000 ms), consistent with a preparation-dependent proactive control mechanism. By contrast, when a reactive strategy of switching attention to the irrelevant dimension to predict the single correlated response was viable, pre-cue benefits were observed on incongruent trials for all cue-to-stimulus intervals including the shortest that afforded only 500 ms to prepare. The findings (a) suggest a restricted role for the preparation-dependent biasing of attention via proactive control in response to explicit, trial-by-trial pre-cues while (b) highlighting strategies that lead to pre-cue benefits but which appear to reflect primarily reactive use of the information afforded by the pre-cues. We conclude that pre-cues, though available in advance of stimulus onset, may stimulate proactive or reactive minimization of interference.

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