Control and interference in task switching--a review

Psychol Bull. 2010 Sep;136(5):849-74. doi: 10.1037/a0019842.


The task-switching paradigm offers enormous possibilities to study cognitive control as well as task interference. The current review provides an overview of recent research on both topics. First, we review different experimental approaches to task switching, such as comparing mixed-task blocks with single-task blocks, predictable task-switching and task-cuing paradigms, intermittent instructions, and voluntary task selection. In the 2nd part, we discuss findings on preparatory control mechanisms in task switching and theoretical accounts of task preparation. We consider preparation processes in two-stage models, consider preparation as an all-or-none process, address the question of whether preparation is switch-specific, reflect on preparation as interaction of cue encoding and memory retrieval, and discuss the impact of verbal mediation on preparation. In the 3rd part, we turn to interference phenomena in task switching. We consider proactive interference of tasks and inhibition of recently performed tasks indicated by asymmetrical switch costs and n-2 task-repetition costs. We discuss stimulus-based interference as a result of stimulus-based response activation and stimulus-based task activation, and response-based interference because of applying bivalent rather than univalent responses, response repetition effects, and carryover of response selection and execution. In the 4th and final part, we mention possible future research fields.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*