On the role of conflict and control in social cognition: Event-related brain potential investigations


  • This article is based on an address presented upon receipt of the Award for a Distinguished Early Career Contribution to Psychophysiology at the 47th annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Savannah, Georgia, in October 2007.
    Portions of the research reviewed in this article were supported by research grants from ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research and the University of Missouri Research Board. Preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R21 AA017282).
    I thank a number of individuals who have contributed in important ways to the research on which this article is based. First and foremost, I am forever indebted to Gabriele Gratton and Monica Fabiani for the training in psychophysiology I received from them, for the influence their ideas continue to have on my work, and for setting an excellent example of balancing the demands of academic and family life. I also am grateful to a number of colleagues, especially David Amodio, Eddie Harmon-Jones, Hart Blanton, and Tiffany Ito for their influence on my intellectual development and for their friendship. Finally, the research presented here could not have been accomplished without the help of numerous current and former graduate and undergraduate research assistants, especially Cheryl Dickter, Marc Sestir, Monica Riordan, Sarah Lust, and Erika Henry. Finally, I offer a very special thanks to Susan E. O'Neill for her constant support, friendship, and love.

Address reprint requests to: Bruce D. Bartholow, Department of Psychological Sciences, 210 McAlester Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. E-mail: BartholowB@missouri.edu


Numerous social-cognitive models posit that social behavior largely is driven by links between constructs in long-term memory that automatically become activated when relevant stimuli are encountered. Various response biases have been understood in terms of the influence of such “implicit” processes on behavior. This article reviews event-related potential (ERP) studies investigating the role played by cognitive control and conflict resolution processes in social-cognitive phenomena typically deemed automatic. Neurocognitive responses associated with response activation and conflict often are sensitive to the same stimulus manipulations that produce differential behavioral responses on social-cognitive tasks and that often are attributed to the role of automatic associations. Findings are discussed in the context of an overarching social cognitive neuroscience model in which physiological data are used to constrain social-cognitive theories.