Cognitive Control in Verbal Task Switching
Task switching produces a number of reliable behavioural measures, the main focus of interest here being ‘switch cost’, the increase in response time when switching between tasks as opposed to performing them separately. Switch costs are typically measured between two tasks and compared to a single-task repeat condition. Current explanations of switch cost fall broadly into either active reconfiguration based accounts (e.g. Rogers & Monsell, 1995) whereby the extra time taken to switch between tasks is attributable to reconfiguration of task set, or passive carryover accounts (Allport, Styles & Hsieh, 1994) where extra time is accrued by the need to overcome conflict between the current task set and the enduring activity of the previous task set. This thesis used the Continuous Series II (Gurd, 1995), a novel continuous verbal switching task which requires individuals to switch continuously between increasing numbers of overlearned sequences (e.g. days, numbers). The aim was to investigate the application of general (whole-task) switch costs (RT costs), memory-based switching and the differential pattern of errors produced by the task, with a view to determining the most appropriate theoretical model to explain costs in the task. General switch costs are measured over the whole time course of the task from beginning to end, instead of the more usual measurement of switch cost over a single switch or repeat within the whole task. Such long-term measures of switch cost account for ‘global representational structures’ in the task, which are said to contribute to the cost of switching yet are absent from local transitional measures (Kleinsorge, Heuer & Schmidtke, 2004). Global representational structures account for not only the current and preceding trials actually performed but also the possible alternatives for the preceding, current and subsequent trials, thereby reflecting all representations relating to performance of the tasks. The Continuous Series II (Gurd, 1995) measures costs continuously over time between increasing numbers of verbal tasks and as yet has not been linked to either a reconfiguration or carryover-based account. Initial administration to healthy controls and neurological patients confirmed difficulty-related increasing costs and revealed a dissociation of errors between two versions of the task, one including semantic categories. This suggested differential sources of control overseeing conflict detection and resolution, linked in this work to Kahneman’s dual system model (Kahneman, 2011) and suggesting the implication of active control. Further work with monozygotic twins mirrored for handedness revealed no predicted effect of handedness but did reveal the employment of vocalised inner-speech as a successful self cueing device, known to be supportive of active reconfiguration in switching (Monsell, 2005). Such cueing was employed by this sample of older adults but had not appeared to benefit the neurological patients who clearly had reconfiguration deficits. Further development of the two versions of the task also allowed rejection of a passive carryover explanation of switch-cost on the basis that switching to the easier task was not more difficult, counter to the prediction of Allport, Styles & Hsieh (1994). At this stage it was evident that some portion of general cost for the task may be artefactual, as participants displayed behaviour suggesting the order of tasks and their updating nature (task content) may be inflating cost beyond a pure measure of switching (an inevitable risk of general switch cost measurement). Investigation of task order showed that production of the category ‘days’ appeared to conflate sources of error. Reducing the difficultly of component tasks (removing the need to update items) demonstrated that a substantial proportion of general cost was indeed purely switch-related. Returning to the question of cueing (previously demonstrated to be beneficial when self-generated), the final study introduced explicit external cues, consistently predicted to benefit switching (Monsell, 2005). These cues did not reduce time costs in verbal task switching and furthermore failed to prevent errors of task order. The lack of external cue benefit supports an amended version of the Rogers & Monsell (1995) task-set reconfiguration model as the best explanation of switch costs in verbal task-switching. This amended model relies entirely on internally generated representations in a closed system and supports the role of active control in generating switch-cost. General cost, while incorporating task-related artefacts, rehearsals and error recovery, nevertheless has at its core a switch related element. Furthermore, the failure of cues to extinguish between-task errors negates excessive reliance on working memory and further supports the rejection of passive carryover accounts of task switch cost.