Dual-task interference in simple tasks: data and theory

Psychol Bull. 1994 Sep;116(2):220-44. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.116.2.220.


People often have trouble performing 2 relatively simple tasks concurrently. The causes of this interference and its implications for the nature of attentional limitations have been controversial for 40 years, but recent experimental findings are beginning to provide some answers. Studies of the psychological refractory period effect indicate a stubborn bottleneck encompassing the process of choosing actions and probably memory retrieval generally, together with certain other cognitive operations. Other limitations associated with task preparation, sensory-perceptual processes, and timing can generate additional and distinct forms of interference. These conclusions challenge widely accepted ideas about attentional resources and probe reaction time methodologies. They also suggest new ways of thinking about continuous dual-task performance, effects of extraneous stimulation (e.g., stop signals), and automaticity. Implications for higher mental processes are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Automatism
  • Humans
  • Reaction Time
  • Task Performance and Analysis*