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An ERP study of cognitive architecture and the insertion of mental processes: Donders revisited


  • The authors wish to thank Dominique Reybaud, Raymond Fayolle, and Bruno Schmid for their technical contribution. The authors are grateful to Dr. Andreas Keil, Prof. Rolf Verleger, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful suggestions and comments on the first version of this manuscript. BB's research is funded by European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013 Grant Agreement no. 241077).

Address correspondence to: Franck Vidal, Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de la Cognition, UMR 6155 Case C, Université de Provence, 3 place Victor Hugo 13331 Marseille Cedex 3, France. E-mail:


In his seminal paper, Donders proposed that Choice reaction time (RT) tasks differ from Go/No-go RT tasks only by the insertion of a response decision operation. We evaluated this possibility by comparing the time course of Laplacian-transformed ERPs, recorded over the primary (M1s) and supplementary motor areas (SMAs) in a Choice and in a Go/No-go task. Laplacian-transformed ERPs showed that a component that develops over the SMAs during the RT of Choice tasks vanishes in our Go/No-go task. This indicates that a process, absent in the Go/No-go task, was “inserted” in the Choice task. The Choice versus Go/No-go manipulation also modified the motor command: the activity recorded over M1s and the delay separating EMG onset from response completion depended on the nature of the task. This indicates that, although a process was inserted in the Choice task, it was not “purely” inserted, contrary to Donders' initial assumption.

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