Contextual Within-Trial Adaptation of Cognitive Control: Evidence From the Combination of Conflict Tasks

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It is assumed that we recruit cognitive control (i.e., attentional adjustment and/or inhibition) to resolve 2 conflicts at a time, such as driving toward a red traffic light and taking care of a near-by ambulance car. A few studies have addressed this issue by combining a Simon task (that required responding with left or right key-press to a stimulus presented on the left or right side of the screen) with either a Stroop task (that required identifying the color of color words) or a Flanker task (that required identifying the target character among flankers). In most studies, the results revealed no interaction between the conflict tasks. However, these studies include a small stimulus set, and participants might have learned the stimulus-response mappings for each stimulus. Thus, it is possible that participants have more relied on episodic memory than on cognitive control to perform the task. In 5 experiments, we combined the 3 tasks pairwise, and we increased the stimulus set size to circumvent episodic memory contributions. The results revealed an interaction between the conflict tasks: Irrespective of task combination, the congruency effect of 1 task was smaller when the stimulus was incongruent for the other task. This suggests that when 2 conflicts are presented concurrently, the control processes induced by 1 conflict source can affect the control processes induced by the other conflict source.

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