On the ability to inhibit thought and action: general and special theories of an act of control

Psychol Rev. 2014 Jan;121(1):66-95. doi: 10.1037/a0035230.


Response inhibition is an important act of control in many domains of psychology and neuroscience. It is often studied in a stop-signal task that requires subjects to inhibit an ongoing action in response to a stop signal. Performance in the stop-signal task is understood as a race between a go process that underlies the action and a stop process that inhibits the action. Responses are inhibited if the stop process finishes before the go process. The finishing time of the stop process is not directly observable; a mathematical model is required to estimate its duration. Logan and Cowan (1984) developed an independent race model that is widely used for this purpose. We present a general race model that extends the independent race model to account for the role of choice in go and stop processes, and a special race model that assumes each runner is a stochastic accumulator governed by a diffusion process. We apply the models to 2 data sets to test assumptions about selective influence of capacity limitations on drift rates and strategies on thresholds, which are largely confirmed. The model provides estimates of distributions of stop-signal response times, which previous models could not estimate. We discuss implications of viewing cognitive control as the result of a repertoire of acts of control tailored to different tasks and situations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Statistical Distributions
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Thinking / physiology