Task conflict and proactive control: A computational theory of the stroop task

Eyal Kalanthroff*, Eddy J. Davelaar, Avishai Henik, Liat Goldfarb, Marius Usher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The Stroop task is a central experimental paradigm used to probe cognitive control by measuring the ability of participants to selectively attend to task-relevant information and inhibit automatic taskirrelevant responses. Research has revealed variability in both experimental manipulations and individual differences. Here, we focus on a particular source of Stroop variability, the reverse-facilitation (RF; faster responses to nonword neutral stimuli than to congruent stimuli), which has recently been suggested as a signature of task conflict. We first review the literature that shows RF variability in the Stroop task, both with regard to experimental manipulations and to individual differences. We suggest that task conflict variability can be understood as resulting from the degree of proactive control that subjects recruit in advance of the Stroop stimulus. When the proactive control is high, task conflict does not arise (or is resolved very quickly), resulting in regular Stroop facilitation. When proactive control is low, task conflict emerges, leading to a slow-down in congruent and incongruent (but not in neutral) trials and thus to Stroop RF. To support this suggestion, we present a computational model of the Stroop task, which includes the resolution of task conflict and its modulation by proactive control. Results show that our model (a) accounts for the variability in Stroop-RF reported in the experimental literature, and (b) solves a challenge to previous Stroop models-their ability to account for reaction time distributional properties. Finally, we discuss theoretical implications to Stroop measures and control deficits observed in some psychopathologies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)59-82
Number of pages24
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Psychological Association.


  • Cognitive control
  • Computational model
  • Executive functions
  • Reverse facilitation
  • Stroop task


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