Unexpected events are part of everyday experience. They come in several varieties-action errors, unexpected action outcomes, and unexpected perceptual events-and they lead to motor slowing and cognitive distraction. While different varieties of unexpected events have been studied largely independently, and many different mechanisms are thought to explain their effects on action and cognition, we suggest a unifying theory. We propose that unexpected events recruit a fronto-basal-ganglia network for stopping. This network includes specific prefrontal cortical nodes and is posited to project to the subthalamic nucleus, with a putative global suppressive effect on basal-ganglia output. We argue that unexpected events interrupt action and impact cognition, partly at least, by recruiting this global suppressive network. This provides a common mechanistic basis for different types of unexpected events; links the literatures on motor inhibition, performance monitoring, attention, and working memory; and is relevant for understanding clinical symptoms of distractibility and mental inflexibility.
Keywords: attention; cognitive control; distraction; errors; motor inhibition; novels; surprise; unexpected events; working memory.
Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.