Which stages of processing are speeded by a warning signal?

Biol Psychol. 2003 Oct;64(1-2):27-45. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0511(03)00101-7.


This article reviews psychophysiological and behavioral studies that attempt to identify which stages of processing are speeded by a neutral warning signal (WS), that is to say, one that conveys no information about the nature of the imperative stimulus or the required response. Experiments involving the lateralized readiness potential (LRP) provide evidence against the widely held view that warning effects on reaction time (RT) are due to facilitation of low-level motor processes. Studies of modality-specific evoked potentials similarly rule out a locus within sensory-perceptual processing. It is concluded that the speeding of RT by a neutral WS is most likely due to nonspecific motor priming within an early phase of response selection. In addition, fast-guess responses, in which subjects choose a response without fully analyzing the stimulus, are assumed to contribute to warning effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Blinking / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Contingent Negative Variation / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Dogs
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Humans
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reflex, Monosynaptic / physiology
  • Reflex, Startle / physiology