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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

July 2010, Vol. 22, No. 7, Pages 1479-1492
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21307)
© 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Responding with Restraint: What Are the Neurocognitive Mechanisms?
Article PDF (330.69 KB)

An important aspect of cognitive control is the ability to respond with restraint. Here, we modeled this experimentally by measuring the degree of response slowing that occurs when people respond to an imperative stimulus in a context where they might suddenly need to stop the initiated response compared with a context in which they do not need to stop. We refer to the RT slowing that occurs as the “response delay effect.” We conjectured that this response delay effect could relate to one or more neurocognitive mechanism(s): partial response suppression (i.e., “active braking”), prolonged decision time, and slower response facilitation. These accounts make different predictions about motor system excitability and brain activation. To test which neurocognitive mechanisms underlie the response delay effect, we performed two studies with TMS and we reanalyzed fMRI data. The results suggest that the response delay effect is at least partly explained by active braking, possibly involving a mechanism that is similar to that used to stop responses completely. These results further our understanding of how people respond with restraint by pointing to proactive recruitment of a neurocognitive mechanism heretofore associated with outright stopping.