, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 1260-1272

Accounting for sequential trial effects in the flanker task: Conflict adaptation or associative priming?


The conflict-control loop theory proposes that the detection of conflict in information processing triggers an increase in cognitive control, resulting in improved performance on the subsequent trial. This theory seems consistent with the robust finding that conflict susceptibility is reduced following correct trials associated with high conflict: the conflict adaptation effect. However, despite providing favorable conditions for eliciting and detecting conflict-triggered performance adjustments, none of the five experiments reported here provide unequivocal evidence of such adjustments. Instead, the results corroborate and extend earlier findings by demonstrating that the conflict adaptation effect, at least in the flanker task, is only present for a specific subset of trial sequences that is characterized by a response repetition. This pattern of results provides strong evidence that the conflict adaptation effect reflects associative stimulus-response priming instead of conflict-driven adaptations in cognitive control.

This research was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO-MaGW VENI 451-02-010 & NWO-MW 904-57-94) and the Human Frontier of Science Program Organization (rg0154/1998-B).