Evidence for the anticipation of environmental effects as an integral part of response planning comes mainly from experiments in which the effects were physically presented. Thus, in these studies it cannot be excluded that effect codes were activated during response preparation only because the effects were displayed as external stimuli before response execution. In order to provide more clear-cut evidence for the anticipation of response effects in action planning, we performed a series of three experiments using a new paradigm, where displaying effect codes before the response was avoided. Participants first learned arbitrary effects of key-pressing responses. In the following test phase they were instructed to execute a response only if a Go stimulus was presented after a variable stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). The Go stimulus was either compatible or incompatible with the effect, but independent of the response. In Experiment 1 we tested the paradigm with two responses and two effects. We found a significant compatibility effect: If the Go stimulus was compatible with the response effect, responses were initiated faster than in incompatible trials. In Experiment 2 response effects were only present in the acquisition phase, but not in the test phase. The compatibility effect disappeared, indicating that the results of Experiment 1 were indeed related to the anticipation of the forthcoming response effects. In Experiment 3 we extended this paradigm by using a larger number of stimuli and response alternatives. Again we found a robust compatibility effect, which can only be explained if the effect representations are active before response execution. The compatibility effects in Experiments 1 and 3 did not depend on the SOA. The fact that the Go stimulus affected response preparation at any time indicates that the role of effect anticipation is not limited to response selection.
Copyright: © 2012 Ziessler, Nattkemper and Vogt. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.