Acting and Anticipating: Impact of Outcome-Compatible Distractor Depends on Response Selection Efficiency

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Action selection is thought to involve selection of the action’s sensory outcomes. This notion is supported when encountering a distractor that resembles a learned response–outcome biases response selection. Some evidence, however, suggests that a larger contribution of stimulus-based response selection leaves little role for outcome-based selection, especially in forced-choice tasks with easily identifiable target stimuli. In the present study, we asked whether the contribution of outcome-based selection depends on the ease and efficiency of stimulus-based selection. If so, then efficient stimulus-based response selection should reduce the impact of an irrelevant distractor that resemble a response–outcome. We manipulated efficiency of stimulus-based selection by varying the spatial relationship between stimulus and response (Experiment 1) and by varying stimulus discriminability (Experiments 2). We hypothesized that with efficient stimulus-based selection, outcome-based processes will play a weaker role in response selection, and performance will be less susceptible to outcome-compatible or -incompatible distractors. By contrast, when stimulus-based selection is relatively inefficient, outcome-based processes will play a stronger role in response selection, and performance should be more susceptible to outcome-compatible or -incompatible distractors. Confirming our predictions, our results showed stronger impact of the distractors when stimulus-based response selection was relatively inefficient. Finally, results of a control experiment (Experiment 3) suggested that learning the consistent response–outcome mapping is necessary for obtaining the effect of these distractors. We conclude that outcome-based processes do contribute to response selection in forced-choice tasks, and that this contribution varies with the efficiency of stimulus-based response selection.

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