From eyes to hands: Transfer of learning in the Simon task across motor effectors

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2018 Jan;80(1):193-210. doi: 10.3758/s13414-017-1427-1.


Inhibition of irrelevant and conflicting information and responses is crucial for goal-directed behaviour and adaptive functioning. In the Simon task, for example, responses are slowed if their mappings are spatially incongruent with stimuli that must be discriminated on a nonspatial dimension. Previous work has shown that practice with incongruent spatial mappings can reduce or even reverse the Simon effect. We asked whether such practice transfers between the manual and oculomotor systems and if so to what extent this occurs across a range of behavioural tasks. In two experiments, one cohort of participants underwent anti-saccade training, during which they repeatedly inhibited the reflexive impulse to look toward a briefly presented target. Additionally, two active-control training groups were included, in which participants either trained on Pro-saccade or Fixation training regimens. In Experiment 1, we probed whether the Simon effect and another inhibitory paradigm, the Stroop task, showed differential effects after training. In Experiment 2, we included a larger battery of inhibitory tasks (Simon, Stroop, flanker and stop-signal) and noninhibitory control measures (multitasking and visual search) to assess the limits of transfer. All three training regimens led to behavioural improvements in the trained-upon task, but only the anti-saccade training group displayed benefits that transferred to the manual response modality. This transfer of training benefit replicated across the two experiments but was restricted to the Simon effect. Evidence for transfer of inhibition training across motor systems offers important insights into the nature of stimulus-response representations and their malleability.

Keywords: Attention; Cognitive; Eye Movements; inhibition.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Spatial Processing / physiology*
  • Stroop Test
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Transfer, Psychology / physiology*
  • Young Adult