Gastvortrag: Peter Wühr

05. Juli 2016

Does response preparation reduce response conflict? Some answers and some new questions

Most researchers conceive of response selection as biased competition. Multiple stimuli can activate multiple responses in parallel, producing response conflict (competition), and the cognitive system will select the most highly activated response. In addition to stimulus-driven response activation, top-down activation biases the competition in favor of those responses that are most suited for achieving our current goals. The present research is concerned with the question of how different types of response preparation affect response conflict as measured in popular conflict tasks, such as the Simon task or the Eriksen flanker task. Previous studies used unreliable (i.e. mostly valid, sometimes invalid) response cues for manipulating response preparation and consistently observed larger response conflict when the prepared response was required than when the unprepared response was required – a counter-intuitive finding. According to one interpretation, the regular effects of response preparation on response conflict are over-shadowed (or counter-acted) by the effects of cue-induced attention shifts on stimulus processing. In four studies we (Herbert Heuer and I) further explored (a) the generality of the counter-intuitive finding that response preparation increases – rather than decreases – response conflict and (b) the plausibility of the attention-shift account. Among other things, our empirical results showed (a) that only response preparation based on unreliable information increases response conflict and (b) that the attention-shift account cannot explain the whole pattern of findings. Moreover, further empirical findings and the results of computer simulations suggest that (incomplete) response preparation based on unreliable information has only negligible effects on response conflict.