A frequently-studied phenomenon in cognitive-control research is conflict adaptation, or the finding that congruency effects are smaller after incongruent trials. Prominent cognitive control accounts suggest that this adaptation effect can be explained by transient conflict-induced modulations of selective attention, reducing congruency effects on the next trial. In the present study, we investigated these possible attentional modulations in four experiments using the Stroop and Flanker tasks, dissociating possible enhancements of task-relevant information from suppression of task-irrelevant information by varying when this information was presented. In two experiments, the irrelevant stimulus information was randomly presented shortly before, at the same time, or briefly after the presentation of the relevant dimension. In the other two, irrelevant information was always presented first, making this aspect fully predictable. Despite the central role that attentional adjustments play in theoretical accounts of conflict adaption, we only found evidence for such processes in one of the four experiments. Specifically, we found a modulation of the attention-related posterior N1 event-related potential component that was consistent with paying less attention to the irrelevant information after incongruent trials. This was accompanied by increased inter-trial mid-frontal theta power and a theta-power conflict adaptation effect. We interpret these results as evidence for an adaptive mechanism based on relative attentional inhibition. Importantly, this mechanism only clearly seems to be implemented in a very specific context of high temporal predictability, and only in the Flanker task
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