In everyday life successful acting often requires to inhibit automatic responses that might not be appropriate in the current situation. These response inhibition processes have been shown to become aggravated with increasing automaticity of pre-potent response tendencies. Likewise, it has been shown that inhibitory processes are complicated by a concurrent engagement in additional cognitive control processes (e.g. conflicting monitoring). Therefore, opposing processes (i.e. automaticity and cognitive control) seem to strongly impact response inhibition. However, possible interactive effects of automaticity and cognitive control for the modulation of response inhibition processes have yet not been examined.
In the current study we examine this question using a novel experimental paradigm combining a Go/NoGo with a Simon task in a system neurophysiological approach combining EEG recordings with source localization analyses. The results show that response inhibition is less accurate in non-conflicting than in conflicting stimulus-response mappings. Thus it seems that conflicts and the resulting engagement in conflict monitoring processes, as reflected in the N2 amplitude, may foster response inhibition processes. This engagement in conflict monitoring processes leads to an increase in cognitive control, as reflected by an increased activity in the anterior and posterior cingulate areas, while simultaneously the automaticity of response tendencies is decreased. Most importantly, this study suggests that the quality of conflict processes in anterior cingulate areas and especially the resulting interaction of cognitive control and automaticity of pre-potent response tendencies are important factors to consider, when it comes to the modulation of response inhibition processes.