Item-specific control of attention in the Stroop task: Contingency learning is not the whole story in the item-specific proportion-congruent effect

  • Giacomo SpinelliEmail author
  • Stephen J. LupkerEmail author


A robust finding in the Stroop literature is that congruency effects (i.e., the color-naming latency difference between color words presented in incongruent vs. congruent colors) are larger for color words presented most often in their congruent color than for color words presented most often in incongruent colors. However, the cause of this item-specific proportion congruent (ISPC) effect is unclear, as it might be produced by either a conflict-adaptation strategy (e.g., prepare for conflict when the word RED appears) and/or a more general learning mechanism of stimulus-response contingencies (e.g., prepare to respond blue when the word RED appears). Thus far, attempts to directly dissociate the two processes appear to indicate no role for conflict adaptation, at least in situations in which contingency learning is also possible. We re-examined this conclusion in a Stroop task in which contingency learning and item-specific conflict frequency were manipulated partially independently. In addition to a contingency-learning effect emerging for stimuli matched on conflict frequency, a conflict-adaptation effect also emerged for stimuli matched on contingency. The two effects also had different time courses, with the contingency-learning effect emerging early and remaining stable throughout the experiment and the conflict-adaptation effect arising later in the experiment. These results challenge not only the contingency-learning account of the ISPC effect, an account that denies the existence of a conflict-adaptation process, but also control accounts that assume that, although conflict-adaptation processes do exist, they are not used when contingency learning is also possible.


Conflict adaptation Conflict monitoring Contingency learning Item-specific proportion-congruent effect Stroop 



  1. Abrahamse, E., Braem, S., Notebaert, W., & Verguts, T. (2016). Grounding cognitive control in associative learning. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 693-728. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Atalay, N. B., & Misirlisoy, M. (2012). Can contingency learning alone account for item-specific control? Evidence from within-and between-language ISPC effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38, 1578-1590. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bugg, J. (2014). Conflict-triggered top-down control: Default mode, last resort, or no such thing? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 40, 567-587. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bugg, J. M., & Hutchison, K. A. (2013). Converging evidence for control of color–word Stroop interference at the item level. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39, 433-449. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bugg, J. M., Jacoby, L. L., & Toth, J. P. (2008). Multiple levels of control in the Stroop task. Memory & Cognition, 36, 1484-1494. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Crump, M. J., & Milliken, B. (2009). The flexibility of context-specific control: Evidence for context-driven generalization of item-specific control settings. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 1523-1532. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Duthoo, W., Abrahamse, E. L., Braem, S., Boehler, C. N., & Notebaert, W. (2014). The congruency sequence effect 3.0: a critical test of conflict adaptation. PloS one, 9, e110462. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Buchner, A., & Lang, A. G. (2009). Statistical power analyses using G* Power 3.1: Tests for correlation and regression analyses. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 1149-1160. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Forster, K. I., & Forster, J. C. (2003). DMDX: A Windows display program with millisecond accuracy. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 35, 116-124. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gratton, G., Coles, M. G., & Donchin, E. (1992). Optimizing the use of information: strategic control of activation of responses. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 121, 480-506. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hazeltine, E., & Mordkoff, J. T. (2014). Resolved but not forgotten: Stroop conflict dredges up the past. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1327. doi: CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Jacoby, L. L., Lindsay, D. S., & Hessels, S. (2003). Item-specific control of automatic processes: Stroop process dissociations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, 638-644. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jiang, Y., & Chun, M. M. (2001). Selective attention modulates implicit learning. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A, 54, 1105–1124. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lin, O. Y. H., & MacLeod, C. M. (2018). The acquisition of simple associations as observed in color–word contingency learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 44, 99-106. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Protopapas, A. (2007). Check Vocal: A program to facilitate checking the accuracy and response time of vocal responses from DMDX. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 859-862. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Schmidt, J. R. (2013a). The Parallel Episodic Processing (PEP) model: Dissociating contingency and conflict adaptation in the item-specific proportion congruent paradigm. Acta Psychologica, 142, 119-126. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Schmidt, J. R. (2013b). Questioning conflict adaptation: proportion congruent and Gratton effects reconsidered. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 20, 615-630. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Schmidt, J. R. (2019). Evidence against conflict monitoring and adaptation: An updated review. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1-19. Advance online publication.Google Scholar
  19. Schmidt, J. R., & Besner, D. (2008). The Stroop effect: why proportion congruent has nothing to do with congruency and everything to do with contingency. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 514-523. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Schmidt, J. R., De Houwer, J., & Besner, D. (2010). Contingency learning and unlearning in the blink of an eye: A resource dependent process. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 235-250. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Shedden, J. M., Milliken, B., Watter, S., & Monteiro, S. (2013). Event-related potentials as brain correlates of item specific proportion congruent effects. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1442-1455. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Spinelli, G., Krishna, K., Perry, J. R., Lupker, S. J. (in review). Working memory load dissociates contingency learning and item-specific proportion-congruent effects.Google Scholar
  23. Spinelli, G., Perry, J. R., Lupker, S. J. (2019). Adaptation to conflict frequency without contingency and temporal learning: Evidence from the picture-word interference task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 45, 995-1014. PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Stroop, J. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 18, 643-662. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Weissman, D. H., Jiang, J., & Egner, T. (2014). Determinants of congruency sequence effects without learning and memory confounds. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 40, 2022-2037. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations