Developmental changes in impulse control: trial‐by‐trial EMG dissociates the evolution of impulse strength from its subsequent suppression


  • Śmigasiewicz Kamila
  • Ambrosi Solène
  • Blaye Agnès
  • Burle Boris


  • Impulse control
  • Susceptibility to interference
  • EMG
  • Partial errors
  • Distributional analysis
  • Response transitio

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Goal-oriented behavior can be disrupted by irrelevant information that automatically activates incorrect responses. While behavioral errors reveal response capture in such situations, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Additional subliminal activations of the incorrect responses (partial errors) can be revealed on correctly responded trials thanks to electromyography (EMG). In the current study, for the first time, EMG recorded in children was combined with distributional analyses. This allowed to investigate the properties of incorrect response activations and to highlight developmental changes in impulse control. A sample of 114 children aged 6 to 14 years was studied. Children performed a Simon task in which the irrelevant stimulus-position automatically activates a response that might be compatible or incompatible with the correct one. On incompatible trials, the automatic response activation must be overcome by controlled response selection. As previously observed in adults, our approach revealed the presence of an automatic EMG activation of the incorrect response elicited by the irrelevant stimulus dimension. Further, it revealed another independent source at the origin of incorrect response activations: the tendency to guess for response alternation. Both sources increased the frequency of early incorrect EMG activations, indicating impulsive responding. In addition, the influence of both sources decreased with increasing age. Thus, development is marked by improved ability to manage distractibility on the one hand and decreased tendency to rely on a guessing strategy on the other.

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