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In the human brain, cognitive-control processes are generally considered distinct from the unconscious mechanisms elicited by subliminal priming. Here, we show that cognitive control engaged in situations of response conflict interacts with the negative (inhibitory) phase of subliminal priming. Thus, cognitive control may surprisingly share common processes with nonconscious brain mechanisms. In contrast, our findings reveal that subliminal inhibition does not, however, interact with control adaptation--the supposed modulation of current control settings by previous experience of conflict. Therefore, although influential models have grouped immediate cognitive control and control adaptation together as products of the same conflict detection and control network, their relationship to subliminal inhibition separates them. Overall, these results suggest that the important distinction lies not between cognitive or top-down processes on the one hand and nonconscious priming mechanisms on the other hand but between responsive (poststimulus) mechanisms that deal with sensorimotor activation after it has occurred and preparatory (prestimulus) mechanisms that are modulated before stimulus arrival.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





11134 - 11139


Adolescent, Adult, Brain, Cognition, Conflict (Psychology), Female, Humans, Male, Models, Psychological, Photic Stimulation, Subliminal Stimulation, Unconscious (Psychology), Young Adult