Sleep deprivation selectively disrupts top–down adaptation to cognitive conflict in the Stroop test

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Abstract

SUMMARY

Sleep deprivation is known to exert detrimental effects on various cognitive domains, including attention, vigilance and working memory. Seemingly at odds with these findings, prior studies repeatedly failed to evidence an impact of prior sleep deprivation on cognitive interference in the Stroop test, a hallmark paradigm in the study of cognitive control abilities. The present study investigated further the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive control using an adapted version of the Stroop test that allows to segregate top–down (attentional reconfiguration on incongruent items) and bottom–up (facilitated processing after repetitions in responses and/or features of stimuli) components of performance. Participants underwent a regular night of sleep or a night of total sleep deprivation before cognitive testing. Results disclosed that sleep deprivation selectively impairs top–down adaptation mechanisms: cognitive control no longer increased upon detection of response conflict at the preceding trial. In parallel, bottom–up abilities were found unaffected by sleep deprivation: beneficial effects of stimulus and response repetitions persisted. Changes in vigilance states due to sleep deprivation selectively impact on cognitive control in the Stroop test by affecting top–down, but not bottom–up, mechanisms that guide adaptive behaviours.

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