One of the most influential theoretical ideas of the past few decades has been an assumption that the ability to selectively process information relevant to the current goal, which is essential for efficient self-regulation, to a considerable degree depends on 'inhibitory processes', which block mental activity or suppress mental contents unrelated to the present task. The inhibitory deficit hypothesis attributes self-regulatory failures to weakened inhibition. Negative priming, i.e. the slowing of responses to previously ignored stimuli, has been taken by many authors as a reflection of inhibitory activity in selective attention. These assumptions have been the rationale behind numerous studies aimed at establishing whether various kinds of behavioral dysfunctions or psychopathology allegedly resulting from inhibitory deficit are related to diminished negative priming. The paper reviews such studies pertaining to several categories of dysfunctions: everyday 'cognitive failures', failures in implementing intentions, changes in cognitive functioning related to aging, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and schizotypy. Researches using negative priming as an index of inhibition do not support the inhibitory deficit hypothesis unequivocally for any of these categories. The discussion of complex patterns of results that emerge from these studies focuses on three issues: the problem of accuracy of inhibitory deficit accounts, problems related to assessing the strength of inhibitory processes on the basis of the magnitude of negative priming, and the problem of external validity of laboratory diagnoses that relate to the functioning of inhibitory mechanisms.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.