Adjustments of selective attention to response conflict - controlling for perceptual conflict, target-distractor identity, and congruency level sequence pertaining to the congruency sequence effect

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2021 Aug;83(6):2531-2550. doi: 10.3758/s13414-021-02294-1. Epub 2021 May 4.


The congruency sequence effect (CSE) describes the performance difference of congruent trials (in which target and distractor stimuli are associated with the same response) compared to incongruent trials (in which target and distractor stimuli are associated with different responses) as a function of the preceding congruency level (congruent trials relative to incongruent trials). The CSE is commonly interpreted as a measure of conflict-induced attentional adjustment. Although previous research has made substantial progress aiming at controlling for alternative explanations of the CSE, both task-specific and fundamental confounds have remained. In the current study, we used a temporal flanker task, in which two stimuli (i.e., distractor and target) are presented in rapid succession, and extended previous demonstrations of a CSE in flanker tasks by deconfounding target-distractor congruency from perceptual similarity. Using a four-choice task, we could also control for the reversal of distractor-response priming after incongruent trials (which is only feasible in two-choice tasks). Furthermore, we controlled for all confounds based on the sequence (i.e., repetition versus alternation) of the congruency level - such as feature sequence effects, distractor-response contingency switch costs, or temporal learning - by probing the allocation of attention to the points in time of presentation of the first and the second stimulus of a trial. This was achieved by intermixing trials of a temporal search task. The performance accuracy results in this task were consistent with a stronger attentional bias in favor of the target stimulus' temporal position after incongruent than after congruent trials.

Keywords: Adaptive control; Attentional adjustment; Cognitive and attentional control; Congruency sequence effect; Response conflict.

MeSH terms

  • Attentional Bias*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Motor Activity
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time