A Role for Proactive Control in Rapid Instructed Task Learning

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2018 Mar;184:20-30. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2017.06.004. Epub 2017 Jun 23.

Abstract

Humans are often remarkably fast at learning novel tasks from instructions. Such rapid instructed task learning (RITL) likely depends upon the formation of new associations between long-term memory representations, which must then be actively maintained to enable successful task implementation. Consequently, we hypothesized that RITL relies more heavily on a proactive mode of cognitive control, in which goal-relevant information is actively maintained in preparation for anticipated high control demands. We tested this hypothesis using a recently developed cognitive paradigm consisting of 60 novel tasks involving RITL and 4 practiced tasks, with identical task rules and stimuli used across both task types. A robust behavioral cost was found in novel relative to practiced task performance, which was present even when the two were randomly inter-mixed, such that task-switching effects were equated. Novelty costs were most prominent under time-limited preparation conditions. In self-paced conditions, increased preparation time was found for novel trials, and was selectively associated with enhanced performance, suggesting greater proactive control for novel tasks. These results suggest a key role for proactive cognitive control in the ability to rapidly learn novel tasks from instructions.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Proactive control; Rapid instructed task learning.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Educational Technology / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult