New study on deviance distraction and response inhibition accepted for publication

The study is the outcome of a three-month visit by Alicia Leiva to Frederick Verbruggen's laboratory at the University of Exeter thanks to a travel grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.

A recent study carried out by Leiva, Parmentier, Elchlepp and Verbruggen is to be published in the high ranking Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

The study explores the relationship between distraction by unexpected auditory change and response inhibition, combining two established tasks that had so far been used in isolation: the oddball task and the go/no-go task. The results indicate that, contrary to recent suggestions, unexpected sounds do not facilitate response inhibition unless they constitute the "no-go" signal. This highlights the importance of stimulus detection for response inhibition.

Abstract: The present study explores the link between attentional reorienting and response inhibition. Recent behavioral and neuroscience work indicates that both might rely on similar cognitive and neural mechanisms. We tested two popular accounts of the overlap: The ‘circuit breaker’ account, which assumes that unexpected events produce global suppression of motor output, and the ‘stimulus detection’ account, which assumes that attention is reoriented to unexpected events. In Experiment 1, we presented standard and (unexpected) novel sounds in a go/no-go task. Consistent with the stimulus detection account, we found longer RTs on go trials and higher rates of commission errors on no-go trials when these were preceded by a novel sound compared with a standard sound. In Experiment 2, novel and standard sounds acted as no-go signals. In this experiment, the novel sounds produced an improvement on no-go trials. This further highlights the importance of stimulus detection for response inhibition. Combined, the two experiments support the idea that attention is oriented to novel or unexpected events, impairing no-go performance if these events are irrelevant but enhancing no-go performance when they are relevant. Our findings also indicate that the popular circuit breaker account of the overlap between response inhibition and attentional reorienting needs some revision.