Instruction-based task-rule congruency effects

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2012 Sep;38(5):1325-35. doi: 10.1037/a0028148. Epub 2012 Apr 30.


In the present study, we investigated the functional characteristics of task sets that were never applied before and were formed only on the basis of instructions. We tested if such task sets could elicit a task-rule congruency effect, which implies the automatic activation of responses in the context of another task. To this end, a novel procedure was developed that revealed instruction-based task-rule congruency effects in 2 experiments. Although the effect seems quite general (Experiment 1), it still necessitates the formation of a task set, as it cannot be induced by the mere maintenance of instructions in declarative working memory (Experiment 2). We conclude that a task set representing only key features of an upcoming task can be formed on the basis of instructions alone to such a degree that it can automatically trigger a response tendency in another task. Implications of our results for the impact of instructions on performance in general and for the occurrence of task-rule congruency effects in particular are discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Visual Perception