Stimuli of the environment, like objects, systematically activate the actions they are associated to. These activations occur extremely fast. Nevertheless, behavioral data reveal that, in most cases, these activations are then automatically inhibited, around 100 ms after the occurrence of the stimulus. We thus tested whether this early inhibition could be indexed by a central component of the N1 event-related brain potential (ERP). To achieve that goal, we looked at whether this ERP component is larger in tasks that could increase the inhibition and in trials where reaction times (RTs) happen to be long. The illumination of a real space bar of a keyboard out of the dark was used as a stimulus. To maximize the modulation of the inhibition, the task participants had to perform was manipulated across blocks. A look-only task and a count task were used to increase inhibition and an immediate press task was used to decrease it. ERPs of the two block-conditions where presses had to be prevented and where the largest central N1s were predicted were compared to those elicited in the press task, differentiating the ERPs to the third of the trials where presses were the slowest from the ERPs to the third of the trials with the fastest presses. Despite larger negativities due to lateralized readiness potentials (LRPs) and despite greater attention likely in immediate press-trials, central N1s were found to be minimal for the fastest presses, intermediate for the slowest ones and maximal for the two no-press conditions. These results thus provide a strong support for the idea that the central N1 indexes an early and short lasting automatic inhibition of the actions systematically activated by objects. They also confirm that the strength of this automatic inhibition spontaneously fluctuates across trials and tasks. On the other hand, just before N1s, parietal P1s were found larger for fastest presses. They might thus index the initial activation of these actions. Finally, consistent with the idea that N300s index late inhibition processes, that occur preferentially when the task requires them, these ERPs were quasi absent for fast presses trials and much larger in the three other conditions.
Debruille, J. B., Touzel, M., Segal, J., Snidal, C., & Renoult, L. (2019). A central component of the n1 event-related brain potential could index the early and automatic inhibition of the actions systematically activated by objects. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00095