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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Trial-by-trial adjustments in control triggered by incidentally encoded semantic cues.

  • Author(s): Blais, Chris
  • Harris, Michael B
  • Sinanian, Michael H
  • Bunge, Silvia A
  • et al.

Cognitive control mechanisms provide the flexibility to rapidly adapt to contextual demands. These contexts can be defined by top-down goals-but also by bottom-up perceptual factors, such as the location at which a visual stimulus appears. There are now several experiments reporting contextual control effects. Such experiments establish that contexts defined by low-level perceptual cues such as the location of a visual stimulus can lead to context-specific control, suggesting a relatively early focus for cognitive control. The current set of experiments involved a word-word interference task designed to assess whether a high-level cue, the semantic category to which a word belongs, can also facilitate contextual control. Indeed, participants exhibit a larger Flanker effect to items pertaining to a semantic category in which 75% of stimuli are incongruent than in response to items pertaining to a category in which 25% of stimuli are incongruent. Thus, both low-level and high-level stimulus features can affect the bottom-up engagement of cognitive control. The implications for current models of cognitive control are discussed.

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