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Shifting the set of stimulus selection when switching between tasks

Abstract

Switching between tasks associated with different requirements of stimulus selection may suffer interference from persisting attentional settings or processes of reconfiguration, possibly constituting a source of task switch costs (i.e., impaired performance in task switch trials compared to task repetition trials). To explore the processes involved in task switching with and without a switch in stimulus selection requirements, we administered a task-switching paradigm that involved task-unique sets of hierarchical (Navon) stimuli, preventing stimulus-related proactive interference (i.e., impaired responding to a stimulus that was previously processed in the context of a different task), and varied, between groups of participants, whether the target stimulus level (i.e., global vs. local) was held constant or varied between the tasks. Mixing target levels impaired performance overall and increased the task switch costs. Moreover, (within-task) global–local congruency effects were larger when target levels were mixed, particularly in task switch trials, suggesting relatively stronger stimulus processing according to the attentional set of the other task. In a second phase of the experimental session, the target level was changed persistently for either one or for both tasks, presumably evoking stimulus-related proactive interference. This change yielded large task switch costs and global–local congruency effects when it resulted in mixed target levels, but not when it resulted in a constant target level. These results are consistent with the notion that stimulus-related proactive interference is reduced by constant withdrawal of attention from the perceptual dimension of the interference-eliciting stimuli.

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Notes

  1. Studies of global/local processing with varying target levels often use “divided attention tasks” in which the target level is to be identified by recognizing a target stimulus presented at that level. To avoid ambiguity, the stimulus presented on the other level is taken from a set of neutral symbols which are not assigned a response (i.e., neutral distractor, e.g., Lamb et al., 2000; Robertson, 1996; Yovel, Yovel, & Levy, 2001). With this procedure, all stimulus symbols (targets and distractors) are consistently presented at different levels depending on the target level condition. For instance, if the letter A serves as a possible target, it can only be presented on the global level in the global target condition and on the local level in the local target condition. Likewise, if it serves as a neutral distractor, it can only be presented on the local level in the global target condition and on the global level in the local target condition. Stimulus-evoked proactive interference in such studies is thus confined to previous occurrences of a target or distractor symbol on the alternative stimulus level than in the current trial (a global target A might interfere via associations with processing local target information, acquired during previous occurrences of local A in local target conditions). Although we know of no studies that addressed the question of the size of stimulus-evoked proactive interference in such circumstances, there is no obvious reason to assume complete absence thereof.

  2. Some previous studies combined task switching and switching between global and local target levels and compared task switch costs on trials associated with a repetition vs. switch of the target level (Hübner, Futterer, & Steinhauser, 2001; Vandierendonck, Christiaens, & Lifooghe, 2008). Because in these studies the same set of stimuli was used for both tasks, however, level switch costs cannot be readily attributed to interference of the set of stimulus selection of the previously executed task.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a Grant within the Priority Program SPP 1772 from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) to Thomas Jacobsen (JA 1009/13-1). The authors thank Ricarda Weil for help with the data collection.

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Correspondence to Mike Wendt.

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Wendt, M., Luna-Rodriguez, A. & Jacobsen, T. Shifting the set of stimulus selection when switching between tasks. Psychological Research 82, 134–145 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0890-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0890-6