Hierarchical control of cognitive processes: switching tasks in sequences

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2006 Nov;135(4):623-40. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.135.4.623.


Hierarchical control of cognitive processes was studied by examining the relationship between sequence- and task-level processing in the performance of explicit, memorized task sequences. In 4 experiments, switch costs in task-switching performance were perturbed by sequence initiation times that varied with sequence complexity, preparation time, and type of sequence transition (repetition or switch). Hierarchical control was inferred from these sequence initiation time effects and the recurrent finding of no switch cost at the first serial position across sequences, the point at which sequence-level processes are likely active in maintaining or instantiating a hierarchical control structure in working memory. These findings resonate with past research on motor programs and serial memory and provide new insights into the concepts of task set and control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Color Perception*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time*
  • Serial Learning*
  • Set, Psychology
  • Transfer, Psychology