Psychological Research

, Volume 83, Issue 2, pp 297–307 | Cite as

The time course of distractor-based response activation with predictable and unpredictable target onset

  • Kerstin JostEmail author
  • Mike WendtEmail author
  • Aquiles Luna-Rodriguez
  • Andreas Löw
  • Thomas Jacobsen
Original Article


Electrophysiological recording in a temporal flanker task (i.e., distractors preceding the targets) has demonstrated that distractor processing is adjusted to the overall utility of the distractors. Under high utility, that is, distractors are predictive of the target/response, distractors immediately activate the corresponding response (as indicated by the lateralized readiness potential, LRP). This activation has been shown to be markedly postponed when the target predictably occurs delayed. To investigate the occurrence and time course of distractor-related response activation under conditions of unpredictable target onset, we randomly varied the stimulus-onset asynchrony (SOA) between distractors and targets and recorded the distractor-evoked LRP. When the distractor utility was high, an LRP occurred shortly after distractor presentation. In case of a long SOA the time course of this LRP was characterized by a drop back to baseline and a subsequent re-activation that reached a substantial level before target onset. These results suggest that distractor processing is characterized by sophisticated adjustments to experienced utility and temporal constraints of the task as well as by further control processes that regulate premature response activation.



This research was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) WE 4105/1-2 to Mike Wendt. We thank Svantje Kähler and Jonas Pichol for collecting the data.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrandenburg Medical SchoolNeuruppinGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Human SciencesMedical School HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Experimental Psychology UnitHelmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Federal Armed Forces HamburgHamburgGermany

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