Unconsciously triggered response inhibition requires an executive setting

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Feb;143(1):56-61. doi: 10.1037/a0031497. Epub 2013 Jan 14.


Much research on response inhibition has focused on a consciously triggered variety (i.e., outright stopping of action). However, recent studies have shown that response inhibition can also be triggered unconsciously. For example, van Gaal, Ridderinkhof, Scholte, and Lamme (2010) showed that an unconscious no-go prime slowed down ongoing behavior, at least when outright stopping was sometimes required (i.e., in an executive setting). Here we replicated that result but also went further by including a condition with no executive setting. Then there was no slowing following a no-go prime. These results support the hypothesis that an executive setting is necessary for unconsciously triggered inhibition. We speculate that this arises from the fact that when the context includes outright stopping, the brain network for response inhibition is primed, and it can be triggered by the unconscious prime. The result has theoretical implications for the distinction between conscious and unconscious response inhibition and also clinical implications for how to train response inhibition so that it is instantiated automatically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time / physiology