Identifying Stimuli That Cue Multiple Responses Triggers the Congruency Sequence Effect Independent of Response Conflict

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According to most accounts of executive control, resisting distraction requires enhancing task-relevant processing, reducing task-irrelevant processing, or both. Consistent with this view, the congruency effect in Stroop-like tasks—a putative measure of distraction—is often smaller after highly distracting incongruent trials than after less distracting congruent trials. Competing accounts of executive control, however, differ on which aspect of an incongruent trial triggers this congruency sequence effect (CSE). The activation-suppression account posits the activation of an incorrect response. In contrast, the response cueing account posits identifying stimuli that cue multiple responses. To distinguish between these accounts, we conducted 2 experiments involving a modified prime-probe task wherein participants respond to the distracter in occasional catch trials. We found that the CSE is triggered by identifying stimuli that cue multiple responses, rather than by the activation of an incorrect response. Further, we observed this effect while ruling out an alternative “response conflict” trigger. These findings are more consistent with the response cueing account than with the activation-suppression account.

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