Shifting set about task switching: behavioral and neural evidence for distinct forms of cognitive flexibility

Neuropsychologia. 2008 Oct;46(12):2924-35. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.06.006. Epub 2008 Jun 14.


Task switching is an important aspect of cognitive control and understanding its underlying mechanisms is the focus of considerable research. In this paper, we contrast two different kinds of task switching paradigms and provide evidence that different cognitive mechanisms underlie switching behavior depending on whether the switch is between sets of rules (rule switch) or sets of features presented simultaneously (perceptual switch). In two experiments, we demonstrate that behavioral effects (Experiment 1) and neural recruitment (Experiment 2) vary with the type of switch performed. While perceptual switch costs occurred when the alternative feature set was physically present, rule switch costs were observed even in their absence. Rule switching was also characterized by larger target repetition effects and by greater engagement of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In contrast, perceptual switching was associated with greater recruitment of the parietal cortex. These results provide strong evidence for multiple forms of switching and suggest the limitations of generalizing results across shift types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Set, Psychology*