Humans are able to continuously monitor environmental situations and adjust their behavioral strategies to optimize performance. Here we investigate the behavioral and brain adjustments that occur when conflicting stimulus elements are, or are not, temporally predictable. ERPs were collected while manual response variants of the Stroop task were performed in which the SOAs between the relevant color and irrelevant word stimulus components were either randomly intermixed or held constant within each experimental run. Results indicated that the size of both the neural and behavioral effects of stimulus incongruency varied with the temporal arrangement of the stimulus components, such that the random-SOA arrangements produced the greatest incongruency effects at the earliest irrelevant first SOA (−200 msec) and the constant-SOA arrangements produced the greatest effects with simultaneous presentation. These differences in conflict processing were accompanied by rapid (∼150 msec) modulations of the sensory ERPs to the irrelevant distractor components when they occurred consistently first. These effects suggest that individuals are able to strategically allocate attention in time to mitigate the influence of a temporally predictable distractor. As these adjustments are instantiated by the participants without instruction, they reveal a form of rapid strategic learning for dealing with temporally predictable stimulus incongruency.

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