The impact of cue format and cue transparency on task switching performance

  • Miriam GadeEmail author
  • Marco Steinhauser
Original Article


Cues help in retrieving and implementing task-sets, that are actual representations of the to-be performed task in working memory. However, whereas previous studies revealed that the effectiveness of selecting and implementing task-sets based on cues depends on the type of cue (i.e., transparent words vs. arbitrary shapes), it is still unclear which characteristics of cues are responsible for these differences and whether the impact of the cue is bound to task-set retrieval only or also impacts task-set representations. For instance, the amount of interference during actual task performance has been reported to alter dependent on cue type as do preparation gains such as the reduction of switch cost. To investigate the effectiveness of cue characteristics (i.e., cue transparency and cue format), we manipulated those within- and between-participants in three experiments. Main dependent measures were switch costs in reaction times and error rates that occur when participants have to switch task-sets, and thus update working memory content. Our results consistently show beneficial effects of transparent cues for the reduction of switch cost. The influence of cue format was manifest in within-participants manipulation only and was mainly found in error rates. Overall, our data suggest that the amount of interference experienced in actual task performance can be significantly modulated dependent on cue type, suggesting flexible adaptation of the cognitive system to contextual information.



Research reported in this article was supported by a grant from the DFG (GA2105-2/1) to Miriam Gade. The authors would like to thank Sarah Schoch and Stefanie Ochsenkühn for their help in data collection. Raw data, trimmed data and analysis scripts can be found at Open Science Framework:


This study was funded by a grant of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to the first author (GA2105/2-1).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Both authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

426_2019_1150_MOESM1_ESM.docx (42 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 42 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCatholic University of Eichstätt-IngolstadtEichstättGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of SciencesMedical School BerlinBerlinGermany

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