Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
April 2018, Vol. 30, No. 4, Pages 468-481
© 2017 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Oscillatory Mechanisms of Response Conflict Elicited by Color and Motion Direction: An Individual Differences Approach
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Goal-directed behavior requires control over automatic behavior, for example, when goal-irrelevant information from the environment captures an inappropriate response and conflicts with the correct, goal-relevant action. Neural oscillations in the theta band (∼6 Hz) measured at midfrontal electrodes are thought to form an important substrate of the detection and subsequent resolution of response conflict. Here, we examined the extent to which response conflict and associated theta-band activity depend on the visual stimulus feature dimension that triggers the conflict. We used a feature-based Simon task to manipulate conflict by motion direction and stimulus color. Analyses were focused on individual differences in behavioral response conflict elicited across different stimulus dimensions and their relationship to conflict-related midfrontal theta. We first confirmed the presence of response conflict elicited by task-irrelevant motion and stimulus color, demonstrating the usefulness of our modified version of the Simon task to assess different sensory origins of response conflict. Despite titrating overall task performance, we observed large individual differences in the behavioral manifestations of response conflict elicited by the different visual dimensions. These behavioral conflict effects were mirrored in a dimension-specific relationship with conflict-related midfrontal theta power, such that, for each dimension, individual midfrontal theta power was generally higher when experienced response conflict was high. Finally, exploratory analyses of interregional functional connectivity suggested a role for phase synchronization between frontal and parietal scalp sites in modulating experienced conflict when color was the task-relevant visual dimension. Highlighting the importance of an individual differences approach in cognitive neuroscience, these results reveal large individual differences in experienced response conflict depending on the source of visual interference, which are predicted by conflict-related midfrontal theta power.