Proactive control of irrelevant task rules during cued task switching

Psychol Res. 2016 Sep;80(5):860-76. doi: 10.1007/s00426-015-0686-5. Epub 2015 Jul 28.


In task-switching paradigms, participants are often slower on incongruent than congruent trials, a pattern known as the task-rule congruency effect. This effect suggests that irrelevant task rules or associated responses may be retrieved automatically in spite of task cues. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether the task-rule congruency effect may be modulated via manipulations intended to induce variation in proactive control. Manipulating the proportion of congruent to incongruent trials strongly influenced the magnitude of the task-rule congruency effect. The effect was significantly reduced in a mostly incongruent list relative to a mostly congruent list, a pattern that was observed for not only biased but also 50 % congruent items. This finding implicates a role for global attentional control processes in the task-rule congruency effect. In contrast, enhancing the preparation of relevant (cued) task rules by the provision of a monetary incentive substantially reduced mixing costs but did not affect the task-rule congruency effect. These patterns support the view that there may be multiple routes by which proactive control can influence task-switching performance; however, only select routes appear to influence the automatic retrieval of irrelevant task rules.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult