Action initiation and action inhibition follow the same time course when compared under matched experimental conditions

Yue Du, Alexander D. Forrence, Delaney M. Metcalf, Adrian M. Haith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to initiate an action quickly when needed and the ability to cancel an impending action are both fundamental to action control. It is often presumed that they are qualitatively distinct processes, yet they have largely been studied in isolation and little is known about how they relate to one another. Comparing previous experimental results shows a similar time course for response initiation and response inhibition. However, the exact time course varies widely depending on experimental conditions, including the frequency of different trial types and the urgency to respond. For example, in the stop-signal task, where both action initiation and action inhibition are involved and could be compared, action inhibition is typically found to be much faster. However, this apparent difference is likely due to there being much greater urgency to inhibit an action than to initiate one in order to avoid failing at the task. This asymmetry in the urgency between action initiation and action inhibition makes it impossible to compare their relative time courses in a single task. Here, we demonstrate that when action initiation and action inhibition are measured separately under conditions that are matched as closely as possible, their speeds are not distinguishable and are positively correlated across participants. Our results raise the possibility that action initiation and action inhibition may not necessarily be qualitatively distinct processes but may instead reflect complementary outcomes of a single decision process determining whether or not to act. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The time courses of initiating an action and canceling an action have largely been studied in isolation, and little is known about their relationship. Here, we show that when measured under comparable conditions the speeds of action initiation and action inhibition are the same. This finding raises the possibility that these two functions may be more closely related than previously assumed, with potentially important implications for their underlying neural basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-767
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2024


  • action inhibition
  • action initiation
  • reaction time
  • stop-signal task
  • timed response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology

Cite this