Stimulus codes form automatically

One of the assumptions shared by all coding models of reaction time is that mental codes for irrelevant stimuli are formed automatically, even though they are not necessary to carry out a task. Coding models explain consistency effects in terms of a match or a mismatch between this irrelevant stimulus code and one of the mental codes required to perform the task.

This kind of explanation is very general, because mental codes can be about anything. As a result, any kind of irrelevant stimulus can give rise to a consistency effect: letters, words, locations, colors, and so on.  What these models must specify is exactly when and how irrelevant stimulus codes influence the formation of one or more of the mental codes that are required to carry out a task.

Wallace (1971, 1972) first suggested that the S-R consistency effect in a Simon task appears because people automatically, involuntarily form a spatial code, even though the stimulus position is irrelevant. Eriksen and Eriksen (1974; see also Eriksen & Schultz, 1979) similarly suggested that flanker letters in a Flanker task are identified (forming their own letter codes) even though they are known to be irrelevant to the task. This view has been generalized since then to apply to any irrelevant stimulus characteristic, and is an assumption made by all coding models of consistency effects.

Irrelevant stimulus codes form automatically, and influence the formation of other mental codes.  Many coding models assume that mental codes form gradually, and that selective attention will eventually suppress the formation of the irrelevant stimulus code once it is identified as irrelevant. This mechanism of attention produces a rising-then-falling, or inverted U-shaped activation of the irrelevant stimulus code.

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