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Micro- and macro-adjustments of task set: activation and suppression in conflict tasks

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Macro- and micro-adjustment of task set was studied using distributional analyses of performance data (reaction time and accuracy) obtained in a new experiment using the Simon task. Macro-adjustments involved the long-term strategic modifications in response to the relative probability of conflict trials, while micro-adjustment involved trial-by-trial modifications invoked by the commission of incidental errors. These adjustments were examined in detail in distributional analyses of RT and accuracy, which have been shown to be particularly useful in studying the role of activation and suppression in conflict tasks. The modification of behavioral strategies incurred by the commission of errors and by the relative probability that the irrelevant location corresponded to the incorrect response was found to involve a reduced location-driven direct response activation (as reflected in the early portions of the delta plots for accuracy) and a stronger selective suppression of that direct activation (as reflected in the delta plot slopes for RT). When the probability of conflict trials was high, the effects of irrelevant location were already precluded by macro-adjustment, so that error commission had no further micro-adjustment effect on subsequent behavior. These patterns were not disclosed by analysis of overall performance.

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Ridderinkhof, R.K. Micro- and macro-adjustments of task set: activation and suppression in conflict tasks. Psychological Research 66, 312–323 (2002).

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