Modality compatibility biases voluntary choice of response modality in task switching

  • Edina Fintor
  • Edita Poljac
  • Denise N. Stephan
  • Iring Koch
Original Article


The term modality compatibility refers to the similarity between stimulus modality and the modality of response-related sensory consequences (e.g., vocal responses produce auditory effects). The previous results showed smaller task-switching costs when participants switched between modality compatible tasks (auditory–vocal and visual–manual) compared to switching between modality incompatible tasks (auditory–manual and visual–vocal). In the present study using a voluntary task-switching paradigm (VTS), participants chose the response modality (vocal or manual) to indicate the location of either a visual or an auditory stimulus. We examined whether free task choices were biased by modality compatibility, so that modality compatible tasks are preferred in VTS. The choice probability analysis indicated that participants tended to choose the response modality that is compatible to the stimulus modality. However, participants did not show a preference to repeat a stimulus–response (S–R) modality mapping, but to switch between modality compatibility (i.e., from S–R modality compatible mapping to S–R modality incompatible mapping and vice versa). More interestingly, even though participants freely chose the response modality, modality compatibility still influenced task-switching costs, showing larger costs with modality incompatible mappings. The finding that modality compatibility influenced choice behaviour suggests components of both top–down control and bottom–up effects of selecting a response modality for different stimulus modalities.


Cognitive control Voluntary task switching Modality compatibility 



This research was supported by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, KO 2045/19-1) within the framework of the DFG Priority Program (Schwerpunktprogramm) SPP 1772. The authors would like to thank Eliot Hazeltine and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. Thanks also goes to Maximilian Richter for recruiting participants and for running the experiment.


This study was funded by (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, KO 2045/19-1). DFG Priority Program (Schwerpunktprogramm) SPP 1772.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest (financial or non-financial). Moreover, we have full control of all primary data and we agree to allow the journal to review the data if requested.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in the present study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standard.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.University of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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