Immediate versus delayed control demands elicit distinct mechanisms for instantiating proactive control

  • Jacqueline R. JanowichEmail author
  • James F. Cavanagh


Cognitive control is critical for dynamically guiding goal-directed behavior, particularly when applying preparatory, or proactive, control processes. However, it is unknown how proactive control is modulated by timing demands. This study investigated how timing demands may instantiate distinct neural processes and contribute to the use of different types of proactive control. In two experiments, healthy young adults performed the AX-Continuous Performance Task (AX-CPT) or Dot Pattern Expectancy (DPX) task. The delay between informative cue and test probe was manipulated by block to be short (1s) or long (~3s). We hypothesized that short cue-probe delays would rely more on a rapid goal updating process (akin to task-switching), whereas long cue-probe delays would utilize more of an active maintenance process (akin to working memory). Short delay lengths were associated with specific impairments in rare probe accuracy. EEG responses to control-demanding cues revealed delay-specific neural signatures, which replicated across studies. In the short delay condition, EEG activities associated with task-switching were specifically enhanced, including increased early anterior positivity ERP amplitude (accompanying greater mid-frontal theta power) and a larger late differential switch positivity. In the long delay condition, we observed study-specific sustained increases in ERP amplitude following control-demanding cues, which may be suggestive of active maintenance. Collectively, these findings suggest that timing demands may instantiate distinct proactive control processes. These findings suggest a reevaluation of AX-CPT and DPX as pure assessments of working memory and highlight the need to understand how presumably benign task parameters, such as cue-probe delay length, significantly alter cognitive control.


Cognitive control Working memory Task-switching AX-Continuous Performance Task EEG, Dot Probe Expectancy 



The authors thank the research assistants of the Cognitive Rhythms and Computation Lab for help with data collection, D.R. Brown, V. Clark, and A. Mayer for discussions and helpful comments. JFC is supported by NIGMS 1P20GM109089-01A1.

Supplementary material

13415_2018_684_MOESM1_ESM.docx (107 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 107 kb)
13415_2018_684_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (51 kb)
Supplemental Figure 1 Brain-behavior correlations between Behavioral Shift Index (BSI) for accuracy and neural measures for AX-CPT (left) and DPX (right). Pearson’s r for each condition in inset boxes. A. Differential switch positivity at Cz (400-600 ms) correlations with BSI (Acc). These correlations show marginally significant positive correlations between differential switch positivity to rare “B” cues and BSI, which is greater for short versus long delay. B. (left) AX-CPT sustained posterior-parietal activity (PO3, PO4, PO7, PO8) and (right) DPX left frontal (AF3, AF7, F3, F5, F7) correlations with BSI (Acc). AX-CPT correlations show a trend of negative correlation between long B cue-locked and BSI accuracy. DPX correlations show an unexpected (negative) relationship between short B cue-locked activity and BSI accuracy. (PDF 51 kb)


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© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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