Have we been asking the right questions when assessing response inhibition in go/no-go tasks with fMRI? A meta-analysis and critical review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Jan;37(1):11-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.11.003. Epub 2012 Nov 16.


The popular go/no-go paradigm is supposed to ensure a reliable probing of response inhibition mechanisms. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have repeatedly found a large number of structures, usually including a right lateralized parieto-frontal network and the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA). However, it is unlikely that all these regions are directly related to the mechanism that actively suppresses the motor command. Since most go/no-go designs involve complex stimulus identification/detection processes, these activations may rather reflect the engagement of different cognitive processes that are intrinsically related and quite difficult to disentangle. The current critical review is based on repeated meta-analyses of 30 go/no-go fMRI experiments using the Activation Likelihood Estimate method to contrast studies using simple vs. complex stimuli. The results show that most of the activity typically elicited by no-go signals, including pre-SMA hemodynamic response, is actually driven by the engagement of high attentional or working memory resources, not by inhibitory processes per se. Implications for current methods and theories of inhibitory control are discussed, and new lines of inquiry are proposed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Brain Mapping / psychology*
  • Brain Mapping / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology