The power of instructions: Proactive configuration of stimulus-response translation

Nachshon Meiran, Maayan Pereg, Yoav Kessler, Michael W. Cole, Todd S. Braver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Humans are characterized by an especially highly developed ability to use instructions to prepare toward upcoming events; yet, it is unclear just how powerful instructions can be. Although prior work provides evidence that instructions can be sufficiently powerful to proactively program working memory to execute stimulus-response (S-R) translations, in a reflexlike fashion (intentionbased reflexivity [IBR]), the results to date have been equivocal. To overcome this shortcoming, we developed, and tested in 4 studies, a novel paradigm (the NEXT paradigm) that isolates IBR effects even prior to first task execution. In each miniblock, participants received S-R mapping instructions for a new task. Prior to implementing this mapping, responses were required to advance through screens during a preparatory (NEXT) phase. When the NEXT response was incompatible with the instructed S-R mapping, interference (IBR effect) was observed. This NEXT compatibility effect and performance in the implementation (GO) trials barely changed when prior practice of a few trials was provided. Finally, a manipulation that encouraged preparation resulted in relatively durable NEXT compatibility effects (indicating durable preparatory efforts) coupled with improved GO performance (indicating the success of these efforts). Together, these findings establish IBR as a marker of instructed proactive control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)768-786
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2015


  • Choice reaction time
  • Instructions
  • Intention
  • Prepared reflex
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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