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Task switching

by Monsell Stephen
Trends in Cognitive Sciences ()
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Abstract

Everyday life requires frequent shifts between cognitive tasks. Research reviewed in this article probes the control processes that reconfigure mental resources for a change of task by requiring subjects to switch frequently among a small set of simple tasks. Subjects' responses are substantially slower and, usually, more error-prone immediately after a task switch. This ‘switch cost’ is reduced, but not eliminated, by an opportunity for preparation. It seems to result from both transient and long-term carry-over of ‘task-set’ activation and inhibition as well as time consumed by task-set reconfiguration processes. Neuroimaging studies of task switching have revealed extra activation in numerous brain regions when subjects prepare to change tasks and when they perform a changed task, but we cannot yet separate ‘controlling’ from ‘controlled’ regions.

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