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Brain Cogn. 2004 Nov;56(2):198-214.

A goal activation approach to the study of executive function: an application to antisaccade tasks.

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Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


We argue that a general control process, responsible for the activation and maintenance of task goals, is central to the concept of executive function. Failures of this process can become manifest as goal neglect: disregard of a task requirement even though it has been understood (Duncan, 1995). We discuss the results of several published and new experiments using various versions of the antisaccade task in order to investigate the circumstances under which goal neglect is likely to occur. Potentially conflicting results in the literature on adaptive control of saccadic eye movements are argued to be attributable to the extent to which different task versions elicit goal neglect. The results suggest an increased susceptibility to goal neglect of high-functioning older adults (Experiment 1) and of first-episode schizophrenia patients (Experiment 2), but not of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (Experiment 3). However, the degree to which such differences in susceptibility become manifest in task performance, is shown to be strongly influenced by manipulations of the relative saliency of task requirements. Theoretical and methodological implications for the study of executive function are discussed.

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