Stimulus devaluation induced by action stopping is greater for explicit value representations

Front Psychol. 2015 Oct 28:6:1640. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01640. eCollection 2015.


We recently showed that rapidly stopping an action in the face of a reward-related stimulus reduces the subjective value of that stimulus (Wessel et al., 2014). In that study, there were three phases. In an initial learning phase, geometric shapes were associated with monetary value via implicit learning. In a subsequent treatment phase, half the shapes were paired with action stopping, and half were not. In a final auction phase, shapes that had been paired with stopping in the treatment phase were subjectively perceived as less valuable compared to those that were not. Exploratory post hoc analyses showed that the stopping-induced devaluation effect was larger for participants with greater explicit knowledge of stimulus values. Here, we repeated the study in 65 participants to systematically test whether the level of explicit knowledge influences the degree of devaluation. The results replicated the core result that action stopping reduces stimulus value. Furthermore, they showed that this effect was indeed significantly larger in participants with more explicit knowledge of the relative stimulus values in the learning phase. These results speak to the robustness of the stopping-induced devaluation effect, and furthermore imply that behavioral therapies using stopping could be successful in devaluing real-world stimuli, insofar as stimulus values are explicitly represented. Finally, to facilitate future investigations into the applicability of these findings, as well as the mechanisms underlying stopping-induced stimulus devaluation, we herein provide open source code for the behavioral paradigm.

Keywords: cognitive control; devaluation; implicit learning; inhibitory control; stop-signal task; value.