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What is a task? An ideomotor perspective


Although multitasking has been the subject of a large number of papers and experiments, the term task is still not well defined. In this opinion paper, we adopt the ideomotor perspective to define the term task and distinguish it from the terms goal and action. In our opinion, actions are movements executed by an actor to achieve a concrete goal. Concrete goals are represented as anticipated sensory consequences that are associated with an action in an ideomotor manner. Concrete goals are nested in a hierarchy of more and more abstract goals, which form the context of the corresponding action. Finally, tasks are depersonalized goals, i.e., goals that should be achieved by someone. However, tasks can be assigned to a specific person or group of persons, either by a third party or by the person or the group of persons themselves. By accepting this assignment, the depersonalized task becomes a personal goal. In our opinion, research on multitasking needs to confine its scope to the analysis of concrete tasks, which result in concrete goals as anticipated sensory consequences of the corresponding action. We further argue that the distinction between dual- and single-tasking is dependent on the subjective conception of the task assignment, the goal representation and previous experience. Finally, we conclude that it is not the tasks, but the performing of the tasks, i.e. the actions that cause costs in multitasking experiments.

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Correspondence to Stefan Künzell.

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This research was funded by a Grant within the Priority Program, SPP 1772 from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), Grant nos: KU 1557/3-1, DI 2126/1-1, RA 940/17-1 and TH 1554/3-1.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Künzell, S., Broeker, L., Dignath, D. et al. What is a task? An ideomotor perspective. Psychological Research 82, 4–11 (2018).

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