The effects of response inhibition training on the self-control of physical activity

  • Kathryn E Andrusko Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University
  • Steven R Bray Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University
  • Kira L Innes School of Interdisciplinary Science, McMaster University


Engaging in cognitive tasks that involve executive functions impairs performance on subsequent physically-demanding tasks. Response inhibition is a core executive function involved in over-riding habitual or pre-potent responses on cognitive tests (i.e., Stroop test) that may also be operative during strenuous physical exercise when people override their urge to quit as they near exhaustion. Research showing performance on an incremental exercise test is limited by central (i.e., brain-based) factors suggests that response inhibition may play a role in exercise performance. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of response-inhibition training on whole-body exercise performance. Recreationally active university students (N=22; Mage=18.77) completed a baseline incremental exercise test to failure on a cycle ergometer. Participants were then randomized to two conditions, each performing either 9 sessions of response-inhibition training or sham training (control) over a period of 3 weeks. Following training participants engaged in a follow-up exercise test, which was compared to baseline. Over the course of the training period, manipulation checks completed after training showed that tasks in the response-inhibition group were perceived as being more difficult (p<0.001) and that the tasks used in response-inhibition training tasks were more difficult to complete than the control training tasks. No difference was found in exercise performance on the incremental exercise test between the training and control groups (p=0.48,n2=0.03). Findings indicate response inhibition training may not have an effect on whole-body exercise performance; however, interpretation is limited as training dose may not have been of sufficient intensity or duration to produce significant effects.

Acknowledgments: Denver Brown, Jason Langvee & Jennifer Zering