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The term Eriksen Flanker Task refers to a set of response inhibition tests used in cognitive psychology to assess the ability to suppress responses that are inappropriate in a particular context. In the tests, a directional response (usually left or right) is assigned to a central target stimulus. The target is flanked by non-target stimuli which correspond either to the same directional response as the target (congruent flankers), to the opposite response (incongruent flankers), or in some versions there will be flankers that will not correspond to any directional response (neutral flankers). In these tests, it has been found that response times are slower for incongruent stimuli than for congruent stimuli.



In an Eriksen Flanker Task there are three types of stimuli used:

  1. Congruent stimulus- the stimulus is flanked by congruent images which indicate the same response as the target. The images surrounding the target stimulus would be the same letter or number as the target stimulus, or arrows pointed in the same direction. [1] Also referred to as a compatible condition.
  2. Incongruent stimulus- the flanker items are incongruent images, such as different letters or numbers, or arrows pointed in the opposite direction as the target stimulus. The flanker items are indicating the opposite response as the target.[2] Also referred to as a incompatible condition.
  3. Neutral stimulus- the flanker items do not evoke response conflict, like incongruent stimuli, and do not facilitate responding, like congruent stimuli.[3]
This is an example of incongruent, congruent, and neutral stimuli represented by arrows. This is what a participant may see in an Eriksen Flanker Task

In the original test described by Eriksen and Eriksen in 1974,[4] letter stimuli were used. Subjects were instructed to make directional responses to certain letters, for example a right response could be associated to the letters H and K, and a left response to S and C. Each stimulus consisted of a set of seven letters, with the target stimulus placed in the central position. Examples of congruent stimuli would be HHHKHHH and CCCSCCC, where both the target stimulus and the flankers correspond to the same directional response. Examples of incongruent stimuli could be HHHSHHH and CCCHCCC , where the central target letter and the flankers correspond to opposite directional responses.

Other variants of the Eriksen Flanker Task have used numbers,[5], color patches [6], or arrows as stimuli. Also, although flankers are usually presented to the left and right of the target, they can also be presented above or below the target, or in other patterns around it.

These examples all use an arbitrary mapping between the stimulus and the response. Another possibility is to use a natural mapping, with arrows as stimuli. For example, Kopp et al. (1994)[7] used left and right arrows, with flanker stimuli above and below the target. The flankers could be arrows pointing in the same direction as the target (congruent) the opposite direction (incongruent) or squares (neutral). More commonly, flankers have been arranged in a horizontal array, as with letter stimuli, so <<<<< would be a congruent stimulus, <<><< an incongruent stimulus.[8]

A version of the Eriksen Flanker Task involving arrows as stimuli can be found here


The flanker paradigm was originally introduced as a way of studying the cognitive processes involved in detection and recognition of targets in the presence of distracting information, or "noise". Earlier work had used visual search,[9] but this makes it difficult to separate the effects of distraction from the effects of the search process. In the flanker paradigm, the position of the target is always known—there is no search process. Nonetheless interference still occurs, so it can be studied independently of search mechanisms. Eriksen and Schultz (1979)[10] varied a number of features of the flanker tests, for example the size and contrast of the letters, or the use of forward or backward masking. They proposed a continuous flow model of perception in which information is processed in parallel for different stimulus elements, and accumulates over time until sufficient information is available to determine a response. More recent work in this area has used neurophysiological measures such as event-related potentials [11] or imaging techniques such as fMRI.[12]

Many studies have investigated the effects of acute drug administration on Eriksen flanker performance. For example, Ramaekers et al. (1992) [13] used an on-the-road driving tests, and several laboratory tests including the letter version of the Eriksen task to assess the effects of two antihistamines and alcohol on driving-related skills. The flanker test was considered relevant, because dealing with distracting information is an important part of safe driving. Both alcohol and the antihistamine cetirizine impaired performance in the test measures, and their effects were additive. The non-sedating antihistamine loratidine had no effect on any of the measures studied. The arrows version of the flanker test has also been evaluated as a method of detecting impairment due to alcohol and drugs in drivers at the roadside.[14]

Various psychiatric and neurological conditions affect performance on flanker tasks, for example acute schizophrenia [15] and Parkinson's disease.[16]

Neurological Basis[edit]

When subjects participate in the Eriksen Flanker Task, the anterior cingulate cortex, or the ACC, is activated. The ACC is a frontal brain structure responsible for a wide variety of autonomic functions. It is observed to be more activate in response to processing incongruent stimuli than in congruent stimuli. It is believed that the ACC may monitor the amount of conflict in and Eriksen Flanker trial and that the measured conflict is used to enhance the amount of control the participant has on the next trial. This indicates that the more conflict presented on trial n, the more control expressed on trial n + 1. [17]

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is highlighted in yellow

This process leads to a interaction called the Gratton effect, which is the finding of a lower interference effect after an incongruent trial compared to the effect after a congruent trial. On this first trial (trial n) the incongruent stimulus presented will lead to an increase in conflict detected by the ACC. On trial n + 1, the increased conflict will lead to more control, causing the distracting, or flanker, stimuli to be more readily. [18]

Similar Conflict Tasks[edit]

There are three different types of conflict tasks that research has been largely focused on, one of these being the Eriksen Flanker Task. All three of these tasks have mainly been viewed as identical in terms of the control processes that are involved. Due to this, inferences and predictions about one task have been made by theorists based on the published findings in a different task.

Another conflict task that receives a lot of focus is the Stroop task. In this test, participants are told to name the color of a word as quickly as they can and as accurately as possible. The trick is the word itself refers to a color. The word can either be congruent, which would mean the word would match the font color, such as the word "blue" in blue font color, or it can be incongruent where the word would not match the font color like the word "purple" in yellow font color. Just as with the Eriksen Flanker Task, the response time and accuracy of congruent words is better than those of incongruent words. [19]

The third task that is largely focused on is the Simon or spatial compatibility task. In this task, the stimulus, either a word, letter, or symbol, is shown on the right or left side of the computer screen. The participant is instructed to press the right or left button based on the content of the stimulus rather than it's location. A congruent trial, for example, could be the word "left" shown on the left side of the screen, while an incongruent trial might be the word "left" on the right side of the screen. [20]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Lamers, Martijn J. M. (2011). "Attentional control adjustments in Eriksen and Stroop task performance can be independent of response conflict". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 64 (6): 1056–1081. doi:10.1080/17470218.2010.523792.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  4. ^ Eriksen, B. A., Eriksen, C. W. (1974). "Effects of noise letters upon identification of a target letter in a non- search task". Perception and Psychophysics. 16: 143–149. 
  5. ^ Lindgren, M., Stenberg, G., & Rosen, I. (1996). "Effects of nicotine in visual attention tasks". Human Psychopharmacology. 11: 47–51. 
  6. ^ Rafal, R., Gershberg, F., Egly, R., Ivry, R., Kingstone, A., & Ro, T. (1996). "Response channel activation and the lateral prefrontal cortex". Neuropsychologia. 34: 1197–1202. 
  7. ^ Kopp, B., Mattler, U., & Rist, F. (1994). "Selective attention and response competition in schizophrenic patients". Psychiatry Research. 53: 129–139. 
  8. ^ Ridderinkhof, K. R., Band, G. P., & Logan, D. (1999). "A study of adaptive behavior: effects of age and irrelevant information on the ability to inhibit one's actions". Acta psychologica. 101: 315–337. 
  9. ^ Eriksen, C.W. & Spencer, T. (1969). "Rate of information processing in visual perception: Some results and methodological considerations". Journal of Experimental Psychology. 79 (2): Supplement 1–16. 
  10. ^ Eriksen, C.W. & Schultz, D.W. (1979). "Information processing in visual search: A continuous flow conception and experimental results". Perception & Psychophysics. 25: 249–263. 
  11. ^ Heil, M., Osman, A., Wiegalman, J., Rolke, B., & Hennighausen, E. (2000). "N200 in the Eriksen-Task: Inhibitory Executive Processes?". Journal of Psychophysiology. 14: 218–225. 
  12. ^ Ullsperger, M. & von Cramon, D. Y. (2001). "Subprocesses of performance monitoring: a dissociation of error processing and response competition revealed by event-related fMRI and ERPs". Neuroimage. 14: 1387–1401. 
  13. ^ Ramaekers, J. G., Uiterwijk, M. M. C., & O'Hanlon, J. F. (1992). "Effects of loratadine and cetirizine on actual driving and psychometric test performance, and EEG during driving,". European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 42: 363–369. 
  14. ^ Tiplady, B., Degia, A., & Dixon, P. (2005). "Assessment of driver impairment: Evaluation of a two-choice tester using ethanol". Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour. 8: 299–310. 
  15. ^ Jones, S.H., Helmsley, D.R. & Gray,J.A. (1991). "Impairment in selective attention or in the influence of prior learning?". British Journal of Psychiatry. 159: 415–421. 
  16. ^ Wylie, S. A., van den Wildenberg, W. P. M., Ridderinkhof, K. R., Bashore, T. R., Powell, V. D., Manning, C. A., & Wooten, G. F. (2009). "The effect of speed-accuracy strategy on response interference control in Parkinson's disease,". Neuropsychologia. 47: 1844–1853. 
  17. ^ Davelaar, Eddy J. (2013). "When the Ignored Gets Bound: Sequential Effects in the Flanker Task". Frontiers in Psychology. 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00552. 
  18. ^ Davelaar, Eddy J. (2013). "When the Ignored Gets Bound: Sequential Effects in the Flanker Task". Frontiers in Psychology. 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00552. 
  19. ^ Davelaar, Eddy J. (2013). "When the Ignored Gets Bound: Sequential Effects in the Flanker Task". Frontiers in Psychology. 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00552. 
  20. ^ Davelaar, Eddy J. (2013). "When the Ignored Gets Bound: Sequential Effects in the Flanker Task". Frontiers in Psychology. 3. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00552. 

Category:Psychology experiments