The Impact of Inserting an Additional Mental Process

Qiong Zhang, Matthew M. Walsh, John R. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Pure insertion describes a scenario where a mental process is inserted within a sequence of other processes without altering the other processes. Under the assumption of pure insertion, the duration of the inserted process can be identified by calculating the difference in overall response times when the process is present versus absent (i.e., Donder’s subtraction method). Additionally, under the assumption of pure insertion, brain regions associated with the inserted process can be identified in fMRI studies by contrasting activation when the process is present versus absent. However, the assumption of pure insertion does not hold in many situations. In this study, we adopted a novel approach for identifying the impact of insertion by decomposing the EEG signal into a sequence of latent stages, each with a distinct topographical distribution and duration. Based on these latent stages, it is possible to identify when, and for how long, a process occurred. We crossed two factors in the experiment: whether the trial required substituting a letter with a number from memory and whether the trial required calculating the product of two numbers. By crossing these factors, we could examine whether inserting substitution and calculation processes affected the durations of other mental processing stages. Behavioral data in the form of response latencies, and averaged EEG signal in the form of event-related potentials (ERPs), provided no evidence of violations of pure insertion. However, our analysis of single-trial EEG signal allowed us both to show that inserting substitution or calculation did affect other stages and to understand why.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-35
Number of pages14
JournalComputational Brain and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


  • Electroencephalography
  • Hidden semi-Markov models
  • Multivariate pattern analysis
  • Pure insertion
  • The subtraction method


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