Inhibitory Control Processes and the Strategies that Support Them during Hand and Eye Movements

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Background and Aims: Adaptive behavior depends on the ability to voluntarily suppress context-inappropriate behaviors, a process referred to as response inhibition. Stop Signal tests (SSTs) are the most frequently studied paradigm used to assess response inhibition. Previous studies of SSTs have indicated that inhibitory control behavior can be explained using a common model in which GO and STOP processes are initiated independent from one and another, and the process that is completed first determines whether the behavior is elicited (GO process) or terminated (STOP process). Consistent with this model, studies have indicated that individuals strategically delay their behaviors during SSTs in order to increase their stopping abilities. Despite being controlled by distinct neural systems, prior studies have largely documented similar inhibitory control performance across eye and hand movements. Though, no existing studies have compared the extent to which individuals strategically delay behavior across different effectors is not yet clear. Here, we compared the extent to which inhibitory control processes and the cognitive strategies that support them during oculomotor and manual motor behaviors.

Methods: We examined 29 healthy individuals who performed parallel oculomotor and manual motor SSTs. Participants also completed a separate block of GO trials administered prior to the Stop Signal tests to assess baseline reaction times for each effector and reaction time increases during interleaved GO trials of the SST.

Results: Our results showed that stopping errors increased for both effectors as the interval between GO and STOP cues was increased (i.e., stop signal delay), but performance deteriorated more rapidly for eye compared to hand movements with increases in stop signal delay. During GO trials, participants delayed the initiation of their responses for each effector, and greater slowing of reaction times on GO trials was associated with increased accuracy on STOP trials for both effectors. However, participants delayed their eye movements to a lesser degree than their hand movements, and strategic reaction time slowing was a stronger determinant of stopping accuracy for hand compared to eye movements. Overall, stopping accuracies for eye and hand movements were only modestly correlated, and the time it took individuals to cancel a response was not related for eye and hand movements.

Discussion and Conclusion: Our findings that GO and STOP processes are independent and that individuals strategically delay their behavioral responses to increase stopping accuracy regardless of effector indicate that inhibitory control of oculomotor and manual motor behaviors both follow common guiding principles. Yet, our findings document that eye movements are more difficult to inhibit than hand movements, and the timing, magnitude, and impact of cognitive control strategies used to support voluntary response inhibition are less robust for eye compared to hand movements. This suggests that inhibitory control systems also show unique characteristics that are behavior-dependent. This conclusion is consistent with neurophysiological evidence showing important differences in the architecture and functional properties of the neural systems involved in inhibitory control of eye and hand movements. It also suggests that characterizing inhibitory control processes in health and disease requires effector-specific analysis.

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