Action control in task switching: do action effects modulate N − 2 repetition costs in task switching?

Abstract

Ideomotor theory posits that actions are controlled by the anticipation of their effects. In line with this theoretical framework, response-contingent action effects have been shown to influence performance in choice-reaction time tasks, both in single-task and task-switching context. Using a task-switching paradigm, the present study investigated whether task-contingent action effects influenced N − 2 repetition costs in task switching. N − 2 repetition costs are thought to be related to task-switch costs, and reflect inhibitory control in task switching. It was expected that task-contingent action effects reduce between-task interference, leading to reduced N − 2 repetition costs. An experimental group (N = 24) performed eight blocks of trials with task-contingent action effects, followed by one block with non-contingent action effects; a control group (N = 24) performed nine blocks of trials with non-contingent action effects. In line with our expectations, a three-way interaction of group, block, and task sequence was obtained, indicating differential data patterns for the two groups: In error rates, the group who had received contingent action effects throughout blocks 1–8 showed larger N − 2 repetition costs in the random block 9 than in block 8, whereas the control group showed a reversed data pattern. The RT data pattern was in the same direction, although no significant three-way interaction was obtained. Taken together, we tentatively conclude that task-contingent action effects reduce task inhibition in task switching, and we outline directions for future research on the role of action effects in multitasking performance.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We also conducted another experiment where the action effects were less salient. We applied a paradigm with face-categorization tasks, and the action effects were small changes in the face (e.g., eyes closing, person smiling, person looking to the left, etc.). We did not find any influence of action-effect contingency with that paradigm. Possibly the quite subtle changes of the visual stimuli led participants to ignore the action effects. We conjecture that action effects need to be salient in order be integrated into participants’ action plans. Details about this additional experiment are available on request.

  2. 2.

    The data pattern was similar when digit repetitions were included in the analysis.

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Correspondence to Stefanie Schuch.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Funding

This research was supported by two grants within the Priority Program, SPP 1772 from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG): Stefanie Schuch was supported by Grant no. SCHU 3046/1-1. Angelika Sommer and Sarah Lukas were supported by Grant no. LU 2070/1-1.

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Schuch, S., Sommer, A. & Lukas, S. Action control in task switching: do action effects modulate N − 2 repetition costs in task switching?. Psychological Research 82, 146–156 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0946-7

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Keywords

  • Ideomotor theory
  • Action effects
  • Task switching
  • N − 2 repetition costs