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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2014 Aug;40(4):1295-300. doi: 10.1037/a0036542. Epub 2014 May 19.

Proactive and reactive stopping when distracted: an attentional account.

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School of Psychology.
School of Psychology, Cardiff University.


Performance in response inhibition paradigms is typically attributed to inhibitory control. Here we examined the idea that stopping may largely depend on the outcome of a sensory detection process. Subjects performed a speeded go task, but they were instructed to withhold their response when a visual stop signal was presented. The stop signal could occur in the center of the screen or in the periphery. On half of the trials, perceptual distractors were presented throughout the trial. We found that these perceptual distractors impaired stopping, especially when stop signals could occur in the periphery. Furthermore, the effect of the distractors on going was smallest in the central stop-signal condition, medium in a condition in which no signals could occur, and largest in the condition in which stop signals could occur in the periphery. The results show that an important component of stopping is finding a balance between ignoring irrelevant information in the environment and monitoring for the occurrence of occasional stop signals. These findings highlight the importance of sensory detection processes when stopping and could shed new light on a range of phenomena and findings in the response inhibition literature.

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