The effect of predictive cues on the flanker effect and negative priming
Powell, Suzanna Lee
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The present study examined peoples' use of predictive environmental cues to exert cognitive control in preparation for early selection of target information. Braver, Gray, and Burgess (2007) suggested two forms of control: reactive, which is stimulus-driven, and proactive, which is preparatory in nature. We hypothesized that participants would engage in proactive control following "hard" cues in preparation for a difficult task. Additionally we expected increased pupil diameter following "hard cues", a further indicator of increased cognitive control. Participants performed a modified Eriksen flanker task (e.g. ABA) in which they were given the preparatory cues "easy" and "hard," which signaled with 70% validity the probability upcoming flankers would be congruent. In Experiment 1 we found reduced flanker interference following "hard" cues. In addition, we examined negative priming effects (i.e., slower responding when the target on trial N was the distractor on trial N-1, ABA-CAC). As predicted, there was greater negative priming following "hard" cues. These results suggest that the predictive "hard" cue enhances participants' early selection of target information and suppression of distracting information. Experiment 2 included older adults and incorporated eye tracking. Participants showed increased pupil diameter and more gaze variation following "hard" cues, indicating that proactive control was indeed being used. No effects of age were obtained, suggesting that older adults may also be able to utilize cues to increase cognitive control. Finally, Experiment 3 sought to rule out an alternative explanation that the results in Experiment 1 & 2 were due to context specific effects. Experiment 3 found no effects, indicating that previous effects were not the result of automatic associations. Together, these experiments demonstrate that predictive cues can maximize performance on a flanker task.