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Effects of trying ‘not to move’ instruction on cortical load and concurrent cognitive performance

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Motor and cognitive tasks often interfere when performed concurrently. The amount of interference typically scales with difficulty of the tasks involved. Thus, supposedly ‘easy’ motor tasks with restricted movement amplitude, like sitting on a chair, should show little or no interference with cognitive tasks at all. We measured the processing load induced by different postural tasks and their effect on cognitive performance under cognitive–motor dual-task conditions. Sixteen subjects performed postural motor tasks in three different positions: ‘Lying in a sun lounger’, ‘Sitting on a bike saddle’, and ‘Upright on feet’. In each position, three different movement instructions were given; ‘Stay stock-still’, ‘Relax’, ‘Move easily’. Each combination of position and instruction was performed as single task but also in a dual-task condition with a concurrent calculation task. Brain activity in the right prefrontal cortex was monitored using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. The instruction to ‘Stay stock-still’ produced higher cortical loads in single-task conditions for all positions compared to all other instructions. The calculation task induced additional brain activity in the same prefrontal area as the motor task. Calculation performance tended to be reduced in the ‘Lying’–‘Stay stock-still’ condition. We discuss the relevance of these findings for learning scenarios in school.

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This research was supported by the German Research Foundation, DFG-Priority Program 1772, MU 1374/5-1.

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Correspondence to Christine Langhanns.

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Langhanns, C., Müller, H. Effects of trying ‘not to move’ instruction on cortical load and concurrent cognitive performance. Psychological Research 82, 167–176 (2018).

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