Testing the flexibility of cognitive control using electrophysiological correlates of stimulus-response compatibility

K.L. Mansfield*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Testing the Flexibility of Cognitive Control using Electrophysiological Correlates of Stimulus-Response Compatibility

At work, at home, and on the road, people are more and more often required to make fast decisions and give immediate responses, making it essential to understand the factors that influence human performance. This work investigated how human beings use cognitive control in increasingly complex tasks, aiming to understand how the brain responds in predictable and unpredictable situations. Scientists have developed several techniques for investigating such cognitive functions, and this work combined behavioural and electrophysiological methods: stimulus-response compatibility and EEG. Stimulus-response compatibility (SRC) concerns the relationship between stimuli (such as a red traffic light) and responses (such as pressing the brake), and especially the ease with which a particular stimulus lends to a particular response. We can manipulate SRC, and thus task complexity, by designing tasks with different combinations of stimuli and responses. The effects of task complexity on the brain can then be detected in EEG (electrophysiological measures recorded from the scalp) during experimental tasks. Event Related Potentials (ERPs) offer a means to investigate the precise timing of interference (with more difficult tasks/SRC) and potential measures of cognitive control.

The results of four experiments revealed how cognitive control can reduce or increase interference associated with SRC and task difficulty, depending on response strategies and on how predictable a specific type of interference is. Chapters 2 and 3 compared interference induced by the location of the stimulus or by additional ‘distractor’ stimuli, and performance and ERP results suggested that resolving each type of interference relies on different strategies. Chapters 4 and 5 demonstrate how people can reduce interference using proactive (preparatory) control, but how preparing for the most likely or most difficult task can lead to performance detriments and late correction (reactive control) on the unprepared task. In other words, control strategies seem to play an essential role in determining how quickly and accurately we can respond to changing task demands. However, the final discussion relates the experiments to more recent studies, theories and computational modeling, concluding that multiple strategies could still be accountable to a general control mechanism that is most effective with constant updating.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Vroomen, Jean, Promotor
  • van der Molen, M.H.W., Promotor, External person
  • van Boxtel, Geert, Co-promotor
  • Hommel, B., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Notebaert, Wim, Member PhD commission, External person
  • Vidal, F., Member PhD commission, External person
  • De Baene, Wouter, Member PhD commission
Award date26 Aug 2019
Place of Publications.l.
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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