Previous studies have identified two inhibitory mechanisms that operate during action selection and preparation. One mechanism, competition resolution, is manifest in the inhibition of the nonselected response and attributed to competition between candidate actions. The second mechanism, impulse control, is manifest in the inhibition of the selected response and is presumably invoked to prevent premature response. To identify constraints on the operation of these two inhibitory mechanisms, we manipulated the effectors used for the response alternatives, measuring changes in corticospinal excitability with motor-evoked potentials to TMS. Inhibition of the selected response (impulse control) was independent of the task context, consistent with a model in which this form of inhibition is automatically triggered as part of response preparation. In contrast, inhibition of the nonselected response (competition resolution) was context-dependent. Inhibition of the nonselected response was observed when the response alternatives involved movements of the upper limbs but was absent when one response alternative involved an upper limb and the other involved a lower limb. Interestingly, competition resolution for pairs of upper limbs did not require homologous effectors, observed when a left index finger response was pitted with either a nonhomologous right index finger movement or a right arm movement. These results argue against models in which competition resolution is viewed as a generic or fully flexible process, as well as models based on strong anatomical constraints. Rather, they are consistent with models in which inhibition for action selection is constrained by the similarity between the potential responses, perhaps reflecting an experience-dependent mechanism sensitive to the past history of competitive interactions.

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