Conflict and disfluency as aversive signals: context-specific processing adjustments are modulated by affective location associations

Original Article


Context-specific processing adjustments are one signature feature of flexible human action control. However, up to now the precise mechanisms underlying these adjustments are not fully understood. Here it is argued that aversive signals produced by conflict- or disfluency-experience originally motivate such context-specific processing adjustments. We tested whether the efficiency of the aversive conflict signal for control adaptation depends on the affective nature of the context it is presented in. In two experiments, high vs. low proportions of aversive signals (Experiment 1: conflict trials; Experiment 2: disfluent trials) were presented either above or below the screen center. This location manipulation was motivated by existing evidence that verticality is generally associated with affective valence with up being positive and down being negative. From there it was hypothesized that the aversive signals would lose their trigger function for processing adjustments when presented at the lower (i.e., more negative) location. This should then result in a reduced context-specific proportion effect when the high proportion of aversive signals was presented at the lower location. Results fully confirmed the predictions. In both experiments, the location-specific proportion effects were only present when the high proportion of aversive signals occurred at the more positive location above but were reduced (Experiment 1) or even eliminated (Experiment 2) when the high proportion occurred at the more negative location below. This interaction of processing adjustments with affective background contexts can thus be taken as further hint for an affective origin of control adaptations.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany
  2. 2.University of GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany

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