- Easy to learn, hard to suppress: The impact of learned stimulus-outcome associations on subsequent action control
- Brain and Cognition
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
The inhibition of impulsive response tendencies that conflict with goal-directed action is a key component of executive control. An emerging literature reveals that the proficiency of inhibitory control is modulated by expected or unexpected opportunities to earn reward or avoid punishment. However, less is known about how inhibitory control is impacted by the processing of task-irrelevant stimulus information that has been associated previously with particular outcomes (reward or punishment) or response tendencies (action or inaction). We hypothesized that stimulus features associated with particular action-valence tendencies, even though task irrelevant, would modulate inhibitory control processes. Participants first learned associations between stimulus features (color), actions, and outcomes using an action-valence learning task that orthogonalizes action (action, inaction) and valence (reward, punishment). Next, these stimulus features were embedded in a Simon task as a task-irrelevant stimulus attribute. We analyzed the effects of action-valence associations on the Simon task by means of distributional analysis to reveal the temporal dynamics. Learning patterns replicated previously reported biases; inherent, Pavlovian-like mappings (action-reward, inaction-punishment avoidance) were easier to learn than mappings conflicting with these biases (action-punishment avoidance, inaction-reward). More importantly, results from two experiments demonstrated that the easier to learn, Pavlovian-like action-valence associations interfered with the proficiency of inhibiting impulsive actions in the Simon task. Processing conflicting associations led to more proficient inhibitory control of impulsive actions, similar to Simon trials without any association. Fast impulsive errors were reduced for trials associated with punishment in comparison to reward trials or trials without any valence association. These findings provide insight into the temporal dynamics of task irrelevant information associated with action and valence modulating cognitive control. We discuss putative mechanisms that might explain these interactions.
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