Having a goal to stop action is associated with advance control of specific motor representations

Neuropsychologia. 2010 Jan;48(2):541-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.10.015. Epub 2009 Oct 29.


An important aspect of cognitive control consists in the ability to stop oneself from making inappropriate responses. In an earlier study we demonstrated that there are different mechanisms for stopping: global and selective [Aron, A. R., Verbruggen, F. (2008). Stop the presses: Dissociating a selective from a global mechanism for stopping. Psychological Science, 19(11) 1146-1153]. We argued that participants are more likely to use a global mechanism when speed is of the essence, whereas they are more likely to use a selective mechanism when they have foreknowledge of which response tendency they may need to stop. Here we further investigate the relationship between foreknowledge and selective stopping. In Experiment 1 we adapted the earlier design to show that individual differences in recall accuracy for the stopping goal correlate with the selectivity of the stopping. This confirms that encoding and using a foreknowledge memory cue is a key enabler for a selective stopping mechanism. In Experiment 2, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), to test the hypothesis that foreknowledge "sets up" a control set whereby control is applied onto the response representation that may need to be stopped in the future. We applied TMS to the left motor cortex and measured motor evoked potentials (MEPs) from the right hand while participants performed a similar behavioral paradigm as Experiment 1. In the foreknowledge period, MEPs were significantly reduced for trials where the right hand was the one that might need to be stopped relative to when it was not. This shows that having a goal of what response may need to be stopped in the future consists in applying advance control onto a specific motor representation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cues
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Young Adult