Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Processing irrelevant visual information sometimes activates incorrect response impulses. The engagement of cognitive control mechanisms to suppress these impulses and make proactive adjustments to reduce the future impact of incorrect impulses may rely on the integrity of frontal–basal ganglia circuitry. Using a Simon task, we investigated the effects of basal ganglia dysfunction produced by Parkinson's disease (PD) on both on-line (within-trial) and proactive (between-trial) control efforts to reduce interference produced by the activation of an incorrect response. As a novel feature, we applied distributional analyses, guided by the activation–suppression model, to differentiate the strength of incorrect response activation and the proficiency of suppression engaged to counter this activation. For situations requiring on-line control, PD (n = 52) and healthy control (n = 30) groups showed similar mean interference effects (i.e., Simon effects) on reaction time (RT) and accuracy. Distributional analyses showed that although the strength of incorrect response impulses was similar between the groups PD patients were less proficient at suppressing these impulses. Both groups demonstrated equivalent and effective proactive control of response interference on mean RT and accuracy rates. However, PD patients were less effective at reducing the strength of incorrect response activation proactively. Among PD patients, motor symptom severity was associated with difficulties in on-line, but not in proactive, control of response impulses. These results suggest that basal ganglia dysfunction produced by PD has selective effects on cognitive control mechanisms engaged to resolve response conflict, with primary deficits in the on-line suppression of incorrect responses occurring in the context of a relatively spared ability to adjust control proactively to minimize future conflict.