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Keywords:

  • distractor-based retrieval;
  • error-related negativity (ERN);
  • event files;
  • S-R binding

Abstract

The binding of stimulus (S) and response (R) features into S-R episodes or ‘event files’ is a basic process for the regulation of behavior. Recent studies have shown that even irrelevant information is bound into event files. Associating distractors with responses leads to more efficient behavior if irrelevant and relevant stimuli are correlated, but leads to erroneous or inadequate behavior if irrelevant stimuli do not predict relevant ones. In this study, we investigated a control mechanism that is triggered by errors resulting from distractor-based response retrieval. We tested whether the error-related negativity (ERN) differs depending on the error source. In particular, we compared errors due to distractor-based response retrieval with random errors. Errors originating from distractor-based response retrieval elicited a stronger (more negative) ERN than did other types of errors, suggesting that the cognitive system responds in a unique way to this kind of error. This control mechanism is adaptive because it prevents the emergence of inadequate response routines.