Introduction

In a stop-signal task, you are asked to respond quickly, except when a stop signal arrives.

Once you have initiated a movement, even when just "in the brain" as a plan, it is hard to stop.

Stop-signal tasks are a variation on go/no-go. Introduced by Lappin and Eriksen in 1966, and further developed by Gordon Logan and colleagues, the tasks measure how good a person is in withholding a response.

In "standard" go/no-go paradigms, there are stimuli you need to respond to, and there are stimuli that you should absolutely not respond to. That is, typically, not a very difficult task to do.

In contrast, the stop-signal task is a very difficult task. In this task, need to respond to stimuli, but on some trials, you will get a "stop" signal. Because the stop signal comes after the imperative stimulus, you will need to stop the response you might already have initiated. Response initiation is, of course, not just physical process, but also a mental process, and the stop-signal task shows that at some point, this can not be stopped anymore!

Gordon Logan is one of the leading researchers in this area. A recent article (2015) is listed below in the references.

About this implementation

In this example, a left or right pointing arrow is presented within a white circle. You need to respond to a left of right green pointing arrow with the following keys:

  • left pointing arrow: b key

  • right pointing arrow: n key

Now, that is simple! Although it is a simple task, you need to get used to responding quickly, though; you must respond within 500 ms (half a second). This is quite fast, but then, the task is very simple and most people can do this.

Early on you might make some mistakes, but you will get used to it after doing this for a while (initially, you will get some mistakes telling you that you should have pressed — you might have pressed, but you were just not fast enough).

The difficulty is that after a training phase, the white circle can become red after the arrow has been presented. The red circle is your stop signal, and you should NOT respond. As you will experience here for yourself, that is very difficult.

The timing in this implementation is set very tightly (the maximum response time in any trial is only 500 ms). If this is too hard, download the PsyToolkit script files and upload them in your own PsyToolkit account. You can set the parameters (replace 500 throught 2000).

The demo takes less than 5 minutes to complete.

Run the demo

Data output file

In PsyToolkit, the data output file is simply a textfile. The save line of the PsyToolkit experiment script determines what is being saved in the data output file. Typically, for each experimental trial, you would have exactly one line in your text file, and each number/word on that line gives you the information you need for your data analysis, such as the condition, response speed, and whether an error was made.

Meaning of the columns in the output datafile. You need this information for your data analysis.

Colum Meaning

1

trial type (go or nogo)

2

required response (left or right)

3

when the stop signal is shown (or 0 if not)

4

response time 1

5

status 1 (1=correct, 2=wrong, 3=timeout)

6

response time 2 (only in no go trials)

7

status 2 (only in no go trials; 1=correct, 2=wrong, 3=timeout)

8

1=trial is correct ; 0=trial is not correct

In go trials, there is simply a response time and status (columns 4 and 5). However, in no go trials, it is still possible people respond before the nogo signal (in that case response time 1 and 2 show this). If people get the no-go signal, a second response time and status are given in case people respond.

Download

If you have a PsyToolkit account, you can upload the zipfile directly to your PsyToolkit account. Watch a video on how to do that. If you want to upload the zipfile into your PsyToolkit account, make sure the file is not automatically uncompressed (some browsers, especially Mac Safari, by default uncompress zip files). Read here how to easily deal with this.

Further reading

  • Logan, G.D, Cowan, W.B, & Davis, K.A. (1984). On the Ability to Inhibit Simple and Choice Reaction Time Responses: A Model and a Method. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 10, 276-291.

  • Logan, G. D. (2015). The point of no return: A fundamental limit on the ability to control thought and action. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68, 833-857.