Response inhibition can affect reaction time to abrupt-onset visual displays

Gellatly, Angus; Cole, Geoff; Fox, Claire and Johnson, Matthew (2003). Response inhibition can affect reaction time to abrupt-onset visual displays. Perception, 32(11) pp. 1377–1392.



Reaction time (RT) to abrupt-onset stimuli has been widely used for more than a century to measure the duration of perceptuo-cognitive and motor processes [Donders, 1868/1969 Attention and Performance II (1969 Acta Psychologica 30 412 - 431)]. A complicating factor with the RT method is that of response withholding, or response inhibition (RI). The occurrence of RI (under this or other names) has been widely discussed in relation to studies of motor processes but has been largely ignored in relation to studies of perceptuo-cognitive processes. We demonstrate that RI can be a confounding factor when RT to abrupt-onset displays is used to study perceptual and cognitive processes. In experiment 1, new-object targets were more accurately detected than old-object targets in an unspeeded task, but were responded to more slowly in an RT task. Consistent with an interpretation in terms of RI, this pattern of results was dependent on the difficulty of target detection. The data of three further experiments also support predictions from the RI interpretation. It is suggested that RI may be an under-acknowledged factor in RT studies of perceptual and cognitive processes with abrupt-onset displays.

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