, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 629-643

When the rules are reversed: Action-monitoring consequences of reversing stimulus–response mappings

Abstract

How does switching tasks affect our ability to monitor and adapt our behavior? Largely independent lines of research have examined how individuals monitor their actions and adjust to errors, on the one hand, and how they are able to switch between two or more tasks, on the other. Few studies, however, have explored how these two aspects of cognitive–behavioral flexibility interact. That is, how individuals monitor their actions when task rules are switched remains unknown. The present study sought to address this question by examining the action-monitoring consequences of response switching—a form of task switching that involves switching the response that is associated with a particular stimulus. We recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs) while participants performed a modified letter flanker task in which the stimulus–response (S–R) mappings were reversed between blocks. Specifically, we examined three ERPs—the N2, the error-related negativity (ERN), and the error positivity (Pe)—that have been closely associated with action monitoring. The findings revealed that S–R reversal blocks were associated with dynamic alterations of action-monitoring brain activity: the N2 and ERN were enhanced, whereas the Pe was reduced. Moreover, participants were less likely to adapt their posterror behavior in S–R reversal blocks. Taken together, these data suggest that response switching results in early enhancements of effortful control mechanisms (N2 and ERN) at the expense of reductions in later response evaluation processes (Pe). Thus, when rules change, our attempts at control are accompanied by less attention to our actions.