Impact Factor
This article is part of the Research Topic Approaches and assumptions in human neuroscience


Front. Hum. Neurosci., 13 December 2010 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2010.00222

To head or to heed? Beyond the surface of selective action inhibition: a review

  • 1 Department of Psychology, Amsterdam Center for the Study of Adaptive Control in Brain and Behavior, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 2 Neurology Department, University of Virginia Health Systems, Charlottesville, VA, USA
  • 3 Spinoza Center for Neuroimaging, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 4 Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de la Cognition, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France

To head rather than heed to temptations is easier said than done. Since tempting actions are often contextually inappropriate, selective suppression is invoked to inhibit such actions. Thus far, laboratory tasks have not been very successful in highlighting these processes. We suggest that this is for three reasons. First, it is important to dissociate between an early susceptibility to making stimulus-driven impulsive but erroneous actions, and the subsequent selective suppression of these impulses that facilitates the selection of the correct action. Second, studies have focused on mean or median reaction times (RT), which conceals the temporal dynamics of action control. Third, studies have focused on group means, while considering individual differences as a source of error variance. Here, we present an overview of recent behavioral and imaging studies that overcame these limitations by analyzing RT distributions. As will become clear, this approach has revealed variations in inhibitory control over impulsive actions as a function of task instructions, conflict probability, and between-trial adjustments (following conflict or following an error trial) that are hidden if mean RTs are analyzed. Next, we discuss a selection of behavioral as well as imaging studies to illustrate that individual differences are meaningful and help understand selective suppression during action selection within samples of young and healthy individuals, but also within clinical samples of patients diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or Parkinson’s disease.

Keywords: action control, response inhibition, prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, interference control

Citation: van den Wildenberg WPM, Wylie SA, Forstmann BU, Burle B, Hasbroucq T and Ridderinkhof KR (2010) To head or to heed? Beyond the surface of selective action inhibition: a review. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 4:222. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00222

Received: 01 September 2010; Accepted: 16 November 2010;
Published online: 13 December 2010.

Edited by:

Michael X. Cohen, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Tobias Egner, Duke University, USA
Birgit Stürmer, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Germany

Copyright: © 2010 van den Wildenberg, Wylie, Forstmann, Burle, Hasbroucq and Ridderinkhof. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Wery P.M. van den Wildenberg, Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, Netherlands. e-mail: w.p.m.vandenwildenberg@uva.nl