The selective use of punishments on congruent versus incongruent trials in the Stroop task

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2022 Sep:193:107654. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2022.107654. Epub 2022 Jun 28.


Conflict adaptation refers to the dynamic modulation of conflict processing across successive trials and reflects improved cognitive control. Interestingly, aversive motivation can increase conflict adaptation, although it remains unclear through which process this modulation occurs because previous studies presented punishment feedback following suboptimal performance on both congruent and incongruent trials. According to integrative accounts of conflict monitoring and aversive motivation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, punishment feedback following slow or erroneous performance on incongruent trials in particular should lead to improved conflict adaptation. Second, selectively increasing motivation on incongruent trials should reduce the overall congruency effect. The current study sought to test both hypotheses. Specifically, we administered the confound-minimized Stroop task to a large group of participants and manipulated the position of feedback (following either congruent or incongruent trials) and aversive motivation (tied to a monetary loss or not) across different blocks. As expected, the congruency effect was found to be smaller when punishment was coupled with incongruent versus congruent trials. However, results showed that conflict adaptation was increased when punishment feedback was selectively coupled with congruent rather than incongruent trials. Together, these results suggest that aversive motivation does not uniformly improve cognitive control but this gain appears to be context dependent.

Keywords: Adaptation by binding; Aversive motivation; Cognitive control; Conflict adaptation; Reinforcement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Punishment*
  • Reaction Time
  • Stroop Test