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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31546. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031546. Epub 2012 Feb 27.

Cognitive control reflects context monitoring, not motoric stopping, in response inhibition.

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Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States of America.


The inhibition of unwanted behaviors is considered an effortful and controlled ability. However, inhibition also requires the detection of contexts indicating that old behaviors may be inappropriate--in other words, inhibition requires the ability to monitor context in the service of goals, which we refer to as context-monitoring. Using behavioral, neuroimaging, electrophysiological and computational approaches, we tested whether motoric stopping per se is the cognitively-controlled process supporting response inhibition, or whether context-monitoring may fill this role. Our results demonstrate that inhibition does not require control mechanisms beyond those involved in context-monitoring, and that such control mechanisms are the same regardless of stopping demands. These results challenge dominant accounts of inhibitory control, which posit that motoric stopping is the cognitively-controlled process of response inhibition, and clarify emerging debates on the frontal substrates of response inhibition by replacing the centrality of controlled mechanisms for motoric stopping with context-monitoring.

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