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Neuron. 2017 Jan 18;93(2):259-280. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.013.

On the Globality of Motor Suppression: Unexpected Events and Their Influence on Behavior and Cognition.

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Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA; Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52245, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


Unexpected events are part of everyday experience. They come in several varieties-action errors, unexpected action outcomes, and unexpected perceptual events-and they lead to motor slowing and cognitive distraction. While different varieties of unexpected events have been studied largely independently, and many different mechanisms are thought to explain their effects on action and cognition, we suggest a unifying theory. We propose that unexpected events recruit a fronto-basal-ganglia network for stopping. This network includes specific prefrontal cortical nodes and is posited to project to the subthalamic nucleus, with a putative global suppressive effect on basal-ganglia output. We argue that unexpected events interrupt action and impact cognition, partly at least, by recruiting this global suppressive network. This provides a common mechanistic basis for different types of unexpected events; links the literatures on motor inhibition, performance monitoring, attention, and working memory; and is relevant for understanding clinical symptoms of distractibility and mental inflexibility.


attention; cognitive control; distraction; errors; motor inhibition; novels; surprise; unexpected events; working memory

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