Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

September 2012


Cognitive control is by now a large umbrella term referring collectively to multiple processes that plan and coordinate actions to meet task goals. A common feature of paradigms that engage cognitive control is the task requirement to select relevant information despite a habitual tendency (or bias) to select goal-irrelevant information. At least since the 1970s, researchers have employed proportion congruent (PC) manipulations to experimentally establish selection biases and evaluate the mechanisms used to control attention. PC manipulations vary the frequency with which irrelevant information conflicts (i.e., is incongruent) with relevant information. The purpose of this review is to summarize the growing body of literature on PC effects across selective attention paradigms, beginning first with Stroop, and then describing parallel effects in flanker and task-switching paradigms. The review chronologically tracks the expansion of the PC manipulation from its initial implementation at the list-wide level, to more recent implementations at the item-specific and context-specific levels. An important theoretical aim is demonstrating that PC effects at different levels (e.g., list-wide vs. item or context-specific) support a distinction between voluntary forms of cognitive control, which operate based on anticipatory information, and relatively automatic or reflexive forms of cognitive control, which are rapidly triggered by the processing of particular stimuli or stimulus features. A further aim is to highlight those PC manipulations that allow researchers to dissociate stimulus-driven control from other stimulus-driven processes (e.g., S-R responding; episodic retrieval). We conclude by discussing the utility of PC manipulations for exploring the distinction between voluntary control and stimulus-driven control in other relevant paradigms.


This work was originally published in PLoS ONE, available at doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00367.



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