Switching attention from internal to external information processing: A review of the literature and empirical support of the resource sharing account

  • Sam VerschoorenEmail author
  • Sebastian Schindler
  • Rudi De Raedt
  • Gilles Pourtois
Theoretical Review


Despite its everyday ubiquity, not much is currently known about cognitive processes involved in flexible shifts of attention between external and internal information. An important model in the task-switching literature, which can serve as a blueprint for attentional flexibility, states that switch costs correspond to the time needed for a serial control mechanism to reallocate a limited resource from the previous task context to the current one. To formulate predictions from this model when applied to a switch between perceptual attention (external component) and working memory (WM; internal component), we first need to determine whether a single, serial control mechanism is in place and, subsequently, whether a limited resource is shared between them. Following a review of the literature, we predicted that a between-domain switch cost should be observed, and its size should be either similar or reduced compared to the standard, within-domain, switch cost. These latter two predictions derive from a shared resource account between external and internal attention or partial independence among them, respectively. In a second phase, we put to the test these opposing predictions in four successive behavioral experiments by means of a new paradigm suited to compare directly between- (internal to external) and within- (external to external) domain switch costs. Across them, we demonstrated the existence of a reliable between-domain switch cost whose magnitude was similar to the within-domain one, thereby lending support to the resource-sharing account.


Cognitive control Attention Working memory Task switching Flexibility 



SV, RDR, and GP are funded by a Concerted Research Action Grant from Ghent University (BOF16/GOA/017). SV and GP are supported by the Research Foundation Flanders (3G024716). GP is supported by a 2015 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. SS was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD P.R.I.M.E. – Postdoctoral Researchers International Mobility Experience). We declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sam Verschooren
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sebastian Schindler
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rudi De Raedt
    • 3
  • Gilles Pourtois
    • 1
  1. 1.Cognitive and Affective Psychophysiology Laboratory, Department of Experimental Clinical and Health PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Institute of Medical Psychology and Systems NeuroscienceUniversity of MuensterMuensterGermany
  3. 3.Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Experimental Clinical and Health PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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