Rule reactivation and capture errors in goal directed behaviour

Cortex. 2018 Oct:107:180-187. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.08.027. Epub 2017 Sep 10.


In everyday life people may act automatically, following "unwanted" lines of action which are triggered by contextual cues and may interfere with current goals. Such occurrences are known as "capture errors" in reference to errors that occur when a more salient behaviour takes place when a similar, but less salient, action was intended. Clinical neuropsychological studies suggest that reactivation of previous rules may play an important role in behavioural interference, but such reactivation has been little studied in normal subjects and simple experimental tasks. In the present study we develop this theme, presenting data on 4 subjects who spontaneously showed capture errors in verbal fluency tasks, and developing a new experimental paradigm specifically designed to elicit such interference in normal subjects. In the new paradigm, 101 normal subjects performed a simple series of working memory tasks, including occasional stimuli whose answer matched both the current and the previous rule. We found that normal controls indeed tend to commit more mistakes after the presentation of a stimulus whose answer is consistent with a current and preceding rule. In this case, however, the errors produced are not necessarily associated with a shift back to the old rule, suggesting that rule reactivation leads to a more general interference effect. We discuss the importance of our data from both theoretical and clinical perspectives.

Keywords: Capture errors; Fluid intelligence; Goal neglect; Rule interference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult