The Simon effect in a discrete sequence production task: Key-specific stimuli cannot be ignored due to attentional capture.
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Two experiments examined whether practicing discrete key pressing sequences eventually leads to a disregard of the key-specific stimuli, as suggested by sequence learning models, or whether these stimuli continue to be relied upon because the associated luminance increase attracts visuospatial attention. Participants practiced two sequences by reacting to two fixed series of seven letter stimuli, each displayed at a location that did or did not correspond with the required response location. Stimulus use was indicated by a Simon effect in that key presses were slowed when stimulus and key locations did not correspond. Experiment 1 demonstrated that letter stimuli continued to be used as the Simon effect occurred with each sequence element, and this remained quite stable across practice and did not differ for familiar and unfamiliar sequences. Experiment 2 showed that the Simon effect remained present even with meaningless stimuli that were often even harmful. These findings suggest that even in motor sequences that can be executed without element-specific stimuli attention attraction enforces stimulus use. The data further supported the assumptions that S-R translation and sequencing systems are racing to trigger individual responses, and that explicit sequence representations include spatial and verbal knowledge.