A great deal of our goal-directed behaviour depends on stimulus–response (S–R) associations, which can be established through conditioning or explicit instructions. For conditioned and reward maximizing behaviour, it has been shown that redundant information will no longer be taken into account once those associations have been formed (“blocking effect”). Following from this, new aspects will not be included in a pre-established association unless they improve behaviour. Opposing this, influential action control theories state that all kinds of information may be taken into account during action selection, thus denying the possibility of blocking redundant “surplus” information from non-conditioned goal-directed behaviour. We probed these contradicting predictions by asking two groups of healthy young adults to perform a redundant and a non-redundant version of a stop-change task in a counter-balanced order. Using behavioural and electrophysiological data, we demonstrate that contradicting current theories, blocking seems to be a general mechanism which also applies to non-conditioned goal-directed behaviour. Specifically, we show that the complexity of response selection processes associated with medial frontal cortical activity is altered by blocking. This was reflected by faster responses and smaller central P3 amplitudes originating in the ACC (BA24/BA32). Preceding attentional processes were not affected. Contradicting current views, our ability to ignore information that hampers an expedient unfolding of goal-directed behaviour is quite limited. Prior experiences have a much larger influence on which input we consider for response formation. This offers a functional explanation for why it can be hard to alter (inefficient) behaviour once it has been established.
Brain Structure and Function – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 14, 2017
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