Reward Associations Reduce Behavioral Interference by Changing the Temporal Dynamics of Conflict Processing

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53894. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053894. Epub 2013 Jan 10.

Abstract

Associating stimuli with the prospect of reward typically facilitates responses to those stimuli due to an enhancement of attentional and cognitive-control processes. Such reward-induced facilitation might be especially helpful when cognitive-control mechanisms are challenged, as when one must overcome interference from irrelevant inputs. Here, we investigated the neural dynamics of reward effects in a color-naming Stroop task by employing event-related potentials (ERPs). We found that behavioral facilitation in potential-reward trials, as compared to no-reward trials, was paralleled by early ERP modulations likely indexing increased attention to the reward-predictive stimulus. Moreover, reward changed the temporal dynamics of conflict-related ERP components, which may be a consequence of an early access to the various stimulus features and their relationships. Finally, although word meanings referring to potential-reward colors were always task-irrelevant, they caused greater interference compared to words referring to no-reward colors, an effect that was accompanied by a relatively early fronto-central ERP modulation. This latter observation suggests that task-irrelevant reward information can undermine goal-directed behavior at an early processing stage, presumably reflecting priming of a goal-incompatible response. Yet, these detrimental effects of incongruent reward-related words were absent in potential-reward trials, apparently due to the prioritized processing of task-relevant reward information. Taken together, the present data demonstrate that reward associations can influence conflict processing by changing the temporal dynamics of stimulus processing and subsequent cognitive-control mechanisms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reward
  • Stroop Test*