Balancing cognitive demands: control adjustments in the stop-signal paradigm

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2011 Mar;37(2):392-404. doi: 10.1037/a0021800.


Cognitive control enables flexible interaction with a dynamic environment. In 2 experiments, the authors investigated control adjustments in the stop-signal paradigm, a procedure that requires balancing speed (going) and caution (stopping) in a dual-task environment. Focusing on the slowing of go reaction times after stop signals, the authors tested 5 competing hypotheses for post-stop-signal adjustments: goal priority, error detection, conflict monitoring, surprise, and memory. Reaction times increased after both successful and failed inhibition, consistent with the goal priority hypothesis and inconsistent with the error detection and conflict hypotheses. Post-stop-signal slowing was greater if the go task stimulus repeated on consecutive trials, suggesting a contribution of memory. We also found evidence for slowing based on more than the immediately preceding stop signal. Post-stop-signal slowing was greater when stop signals occurred more frequently (Experiment 1), inconsistent with the surprise hypothesis, and when inhibition failed more frequently (Experiment 2). This suggests that more global manipulations encompassing many trials affect post-stop-signal adjustments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Signal Detection, Psychological / physiology*
  • Social Adjustment*