Inhibitory control such as active selective response inhibition is currently a major topic in cognitive neuroscience. Here we analyze the shape of behavioral RT and accuracy distributions in a visual masked priming paradigm. We employ discrete time hazard functions of response occurrence and conditional accuracy functions to study what causes the negative compatibility effect (NCE)—faster responses and less errors in inconsistent than in consistent prime target conditions—during the time course of a trial. Experiment 1 compares different mask types to find out whether response-relevant mask features are necessary for the NCE. After ruling out this explanation, Experiment 2 manipulates prime mask and mask target intervals to find out whether the NCE is time-locked to the prime or to the mask. We find that (a) response conflicts in inconsistent prime target conditions are locked to target onset, (b) positive priming effects are locked to prime onset whereas the NCE is locked to mask onset, (c) active response inhibition is selective for the primed response, and (d) the type of mask has only modulating effects. We conclude that the NCE is neither caused by automatic self-inhibition of the primed response due to backward masking nor by updating response-relevant features of the mask, but by active mask-triggered selective inhibition of the primed response. We discuss our results in light of a recent computational model of the role of the BG in response gating and executive control.

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