Dissociating restart cost and mixing cost in task switching

Psychol Res. 2009 May;73(3):407-16. doi: 10.1007/s00426-008-0151-9. Epub 2008 Apr 30.


Three experiments investigated the cognitive mechanisms underlying the restart cost and mixing cost in task switching. To this aim, the predictability of task order was varied (unpredictable in Experiment 1 and predictable in Experiments 2 and 3) across experiments, which employed a multiple-trial paradigm. Verbal cues for color and shape matching tasks were presented before a run of four trials. Focusing on task-repetition runs only, we measured restart cost as the difference in performance between trials 1 and 2 and mixing cost as the difference in performance on the non-cued trials under mixed-tasks conditions (Experiments 1 and 2) and single-task conditions (Experiment 3). The restart cost was observed under mixed-tasks conditions with both unpredictable and predictable task orders but not under the single-task condition. In contrast, the mixing cost was observed under the mixed-tasks condition with unpredictable task order only (Experiment 1). This finding implies that the optimal task execution on repetition trials depends on how predictable the identity of the approaching task is. Therefore, we suggest that mixing cost arises from limited preparation on repetition trials when task order is unpredictable, while restart cost arises from processes involved in cue-based task activation that is needed to resolve task interference. Together, these data suggest that restart cost and mixing cost are based on dissociable mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Cognition*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time
  • Task Performance and Analysis*