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Executive control in the Simon effect: an electromyographic and distributional analysis

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Manual responses to lateralized stimuli are faster for spatially congruent stimulus-response associations than for incongruent associations, even if the stimulus location is irrelevant. This effect, however, decreases as reaction time increases. Recent data suggest that such a decrease reflects online, within-trial executive control. The present study was aimed at testing this hypothesis by analyzing the electromyographic activity of muscles involved in response execution. We focused on the particular trials in which an activation of the muscle involved to the incorrect response preceded the execution of the correct response. A sequential effect analysis, along with an analysis of the reaction time distributions, revealed that after such dual-activation trials, executive control was reinforced. In addition, a distribution analysis of the reaction times associated with such trials compared to the trials without incorrect activation, revealed online, within-trial changes in executive control. Arguments against a late motor locus of the effect of the irrelevant stimulus location are also provided. These results are discussed in terms of current models of cognitive control.

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Burle, B., Possamaï, CA., Vidal, F. et al. Executive control in the Simon effect: an electromyographic and distributional analysis. Psychological Research 66, 324–336 (2002).

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