Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
When responding to stimuli in our environment, the presence of multiple items associated with task-relevant responses affects both ongoing response selection and subsequent behavior. Computational modeling of conflict monitoring and neuroimaging data predict that the recent context of response competition will bias the selection of certain stimuli over others very early in the processing stream through increased focal spatial attention. We used high-density EEG to test this hypothesis and to investigate the contextual effects on nonspatial, early stimulus processing in a modified flanker task. Subjects were required to respond to a central arrow and to ignore potentially conflicting information from flanking arrows in trials preceded by a series of either compatible or incompatible trials. On some trials, we presented the flanking arrows in the absence of the central target. The visual P1 component was selectively enhanced only for incompatible trials when preceded by incompatible ones, suggesting that contextual effects depend on feature-based processing, and not only simple enhancement of the target location. Context effects also occurred on no-target trials as evidenced by an enhanced early-evoked response when they followed compatible compared to incompatible trials, suggesting that spatial attention was also modulated by recent context. These results support a multi-componential account of spatial and nonspatial attention and they suggest that contextually driven cognitive control mechanisms can operate on specific stimulus features at extremely early stages of processing within stimulus-response conflict tasks.