Psychological Research

, Volume 76, Issue 5, pp 566–578 | Cite as

The cost of serially chaining two cognitive operations

  • Zhao Fan
  • Krish Singh
  • Suresh Muthukumaraswamy
  • Mariano Sigman
  • Stanislas Dehaene
  • Kimron Shapiro
Original Article


As Turing (1936, Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society) noted, a fundamental process in human cognition is to effect chained sequential operations in which the second operation requires an input from the preceding one. Although a great deal is known about the costs associated with ‘independent’ (unrelated) operations, e.g., from the classic psychological refractory period paradigm, far less is known about those operations to which Turing referred. We present the results of two behavioural experiments, where participants were required to perform two speeded sequential tasks that were either chained or independent. Both experiments reveal the reaction time cost of chaining, over and above classical dual-task serial costs. Moreover, the chaining operation significantly altered the distribution of reaction times relative to the Independent condition in terms of an increased mean and variance. These results are discussed in terms of the cognitive architecture underlying the serial chaining of cognitive operations.


Attentional Blink Independent Condition Practice Block Psychological Refractory Period Central Fixation Point 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was funded by a grant from the Human Frontier Science Program to S. Dehaene, K. Shapiro, P. Roelfsema, M. Sigman and W. Vanduffel.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhao Fan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Krish Singh
    • 3
  • Suresh Muthukumaraswamy
    • 3
  • Mariano Sigman
    • 4
  • Stanislas Dehaene
    • 5
  • Kimron Shapiro
    • 6
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and BehaviorCentral China Normal University, Ministry of EducationWuhanChina
  2. 2.School of PsychologyCentral China Normal UniversityWuhanChina
  3. 3.School of PsychologyCardiff University, CUBRICCardiffUK
  4. 4.Physics DepartmentUniversity of Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina
  5. 5.Collège de FranceParisFrance
  6. 6.School of PsychologyBangor UniversityBangorWales, UK

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