Reward associations reduce behavioral interference by changing the temporal dynamics of conflict processing.
Associating stimuli with the prospect of reward typically facilitates responses to those stimuli due to an enhancement of attentional and cognitive-control processes. Such reward-induced facilitation might be especially helpful when cognitive-control mechanisms are challenged, as when one must overcome interference from irrelevant inputs. Here, we investigated the neural dynamics of reward effects in a color-naming Stroop task by employing event-related potentials (ERPs). We found that behavioral facilitation in potential-reward trials, as compared to no-reward trials, was paralleled by early ERP modulations likely indexing increased attention to the reward-predictive stimulus. Moreover, reward changed the temporal dynamics of conflict-related ERP components, which may be a consequence of an early access to the various stimulus features and their relationships. Finally, although word meanings referring to potential-reward colors were always task-irrelevant, they caused greater interference compared to words referring to no-reward colors, an effect that was accompanied by a relatively early fronto-central ERP modulation. This latter observation suggests that task-irrelevant reward information can undermine goal-directed behavior at an early processing stage, presumably reflecting priming of a goal-incompatible response. Yet, these detrimental effects of incongruent reward-related words were absent in potential-reward trials, apparently due to the prioritized processing of task-relevant reward information. Taken together, the present data demonstrate that reward associations can influence conflict processing by changing the temporal dynamics of stimulus processing and subsequent cognitive-control mechanisms.
Krebs, RM; Boehler, CN; Appelbaum, LG; Woldorff, MG
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