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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 (generally left or right) is made 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) or to the opposite response (incongruent flankers). It is found that response times are slower for incongruent stimuli than for congruent stimuli.


In the original test described by Eriksen and Eriksen in 1974,[1] letter stimuli were used. Subjects were instructed to make a directional responses to certain letters, for example a right response 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 in the central position. Examples of congruent stimuli would be HHHKHHH and CCCSCCC, where both the target and the flankers correspond to the same response. Examples of incongruent flanker stimuli HHHSHHH and CCCHCCC , where the central target letter and the flankers correspond to opposite responses. Other variants have used numbers,[2] or colour patches [3] as stimuli.

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)[4] 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.[5]

Studies Edit

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,[6] 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)[7] 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 [8] or imaging techniques such as fMRI.[9]

Many studies have investigated the effects of acute drug administration on Eriksen flanker performance. For example, Ramaekers et al. (1992) [10] 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.[11]

Various psychiatric and neurological conditions affect performance on flanker tasks, for example acute schizophrenia [12] and Parkinson's disease.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. 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.
  2. Lindgren, M., Stenberg, G., & Rosen, I. (1996). Effects of nicotine in visual attention tasks. Human Psychopharmacology 11: 47–51.
  3. 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.
  4. Kopp, B., Mattler, U., & Rist, F. (1994). Selective attention and response competition in schizophrenic patients. Psychiatry Research 53: 129–139.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Eriksen, C.W. & Schultz, D.W. (1979). Information processing in visual search: A continuous flow conception and experimental results.. Perception & Psychophysics 25: 249–263.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.

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