You’re driving on a busy road and you intend to switch lanes when you suddenly realize that there’s a car in your blind spot. You have to put a stop to your lane change—and quickly.
A new study by Duke University researchers suggests that this type of scenario makes a person less likely to remember what halted the action—for example, the make and model of the car in the blind spot.
People and non-human primates excel at “response inhibition.” Our sophisticated brains allow us to cancel an action even when it’s something engrained, like driving on the right side of the road. Although it’s not easy, we can override this inclination when we drive in foreign countries with left-hand traffic.
The new results, published Aug. 26 in the Journal of Neuroscience, lend insight into how the ability to inhibit an action—a fundamental aspect of everyday life—affects other important brain functions such as attention and memory. The findings may eventually inform the treatment of disorders characterized by difficulty inhibiting actions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and addiction.
Last year, for a study published in Psychological Science, Tobias Egner, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, and postdoctoral researcher Yu-Chin Chiu decided to test how response inhibition affected memory.
In that study, participants completed a computer-based task in which they were asked to press a button if they saw a male face but withhold a response if they saw a female face. (Some…