Reward-predicting stimuli can induce maladaptive behavior by provoking action tendencies that conflict with long-term goals. Earlier, we showed that when human participants were permitted to respond for a reward in the presence of a task-irrelevant, reward-predicting stimulus (i.e. goCS+ trials), the CS+ provoked an action tendency to respond compared to when a non-rewarding CS- stimulus was present (i.e. goCS- trials). However, when participants were not permitted to respond, response suppression was recruited to mitigate the action tendency that was triggered by the motivating CS+ stimulus (i.e. on nogoCS+ trials) (Freeman et al., 2014). Here we tested the hypothesis that repeated response suppression over a motivationally-triggered action tendency would reduce subsequent CS+ provocation. We compared groups of participants who had different proportions of nogoCS+ trials, and we measured CS+ provocation on go trials via reaction time. Our results showed that CS+ provocation on go trials was reduced monotonically as the proportion of nogoCS+ trials increased. Further analysis showed that these group differences were best explained by reduced provocation on goCS+ trials that followed nogoCS+ (compared to nogoCS-) trials. Follow-up experiments using a neurophysiological index of motor activity replicated these effects and also suggested that, following nogoCS+ trials, a response suppression mechanism was in place to help prevent subsequent CS+ provocation. Thus, our results show that performing response suppression in the face of a motivating stimulus not only controls responding at that time, but also prevents provocation in the near future.
Keywords: Cognitive control; Conflict adaptation; Motivation; Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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