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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2009 Aug;35(4):1129-39. doi: 10.1037/a0013551.

Dissociating consciousness from inhibitory control: evidence for unconsciously triggered response inhibition in the stop-signal task.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Group, Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, Amsterdam 1018 WB, The Netherlands.


Theories about the functional relevance of consciousness commonly posit that higher order cognitive control functions, such as response inhibition, require consciousness. To test this assertion, the authors designed a masked stop-signal paradigm to examine whether response inhibition could be triggered and initiated by masked stop signals, which inform participants to stop an action they have begun. In 2 experiments, masked stop signals were observed to occasionally result in full response inhibition as well as to yield a slow down in the speed of responses that were not inhibited. The magnitude of this subliminally triggered response time slowing effect correlated with the efficiency measure (stop signal reaction time) of response inhibition across participants. Thus, response inhibition can be triggered unconsciously-more so in individuals who are good inhibitors and under conditions that are associated with efficient response inhibition. These results indicate that in contradiction to common theorizing, inhibitory control processes can operate outside awareness.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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