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Exploring the repetition bias in voluntary task switching

Abstract

In the voluntary task-switching paradigm, participants are required to randomly select tasks. We reasoned that the consistent finding of a repetition bias (i.e., participants repeat tasks more often than expected by chance) reflects reasonable adaptive task selection behavior to balance the goal of random task selection with the goals to minimize the time and effort for task performance. We conducted two experiments in which participants were provided with variable amount of preview for the non-chosen task stimuli (i.e., potential switch stimuli). We assumed that switch stimuli would initiate some pre-processing resulting in improved performance in switch trials. Results showed that reduced switch costs due to extra-preview in advance of each trial were accompanied by more task switches. This finding is in line with the characteristics of rational adaptive behavior. However, participants were not biased to switch tasks more often than chance despite large switch benefits. We suggest that participants might avoid effortful additional control processes that modulate the effects of preview on task performance and task choice.

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Notes

  1. Age from one participant was missing.

  2. In all experimental task display blocks with preview, for example, it is possible that participants worked on a task before they actually selected a task. Indeed, separate analyses for choice and execution reaction times (RTs) in Experiment 1 indicated that participants in the preview conditions worked on task stimuli before they selected a task. This was reflected in longer choice RTs and correspondingly shorter execution RTs in the preview conditions compared to the baseline conditions. These analyses provided further support for our approach to use the sum of task choice and task execution reaction times as a measure for task performance.

  3. We noticed that one participant of this preview group had very high switch costs in the experimental (Δ switch costs = 567 ms), but not in the baseline task display condition (Δ switch costs = −21 ms). This participant was not excluded from our reported analyses, but we conducted additional analyses for the execution-preview group without this participant. These analyses still revealed no reliable effects on mean RTs (all ps > .113) and the difference in repetition rates between the baseline and experimental task display blocks was still significant (p = .013).

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grants within the Priority Program, SPP 1772 from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), Grant no. KI1388/8-1 and Grant no. DI 2126/1-1. We are grateful to Iring Koch, Dietrich Manzey and Starla Weaver for many helpful comments on an earlier version of the article. We also thank Julia Haimerl and Jonas Maus for the support in data collection. Raw data are available via the Open Science Framework at https://osf.io/tp87f/.

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Correspondence to Victor Mittelstädt.

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Mittelstädt, V., Dignath, D., Schmidt-Ott, M. et al. Exploring the repetition bias in voluntary task switching. Psychological Research 82, 78–91 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0911-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0911-5