AUTHORS: Murray MM, De Santis L, Thut G, Wylie GR

Brain and Cognition, 69(1): 47-55, February 2009


Switching from one functional or cognitive operation to another is thought to rely on executive/control processes. The efficacy of these processes may depend on the extent of overlap between neural circuitry mediating the different tasks; more effective task preparation (and by extension smaller switch costs) is achieved when this overlap is small. We investigated the performance costs associated with switching tasks and/or switching sensory modalities. Participants discriminated either the identity or spatial location of objects that were presented either visually or acoustically. Switch costs between tasks were significantly smaller when the sensory modality of the task switched versus when it repeated. This was the case irrespective of whether the pre-trial cue informed participants only of the upcoming task, but not sensory modality (Experiment 1) or whether the pre-trial cue was informative about both the upcoming task and sensory modality (Experiment 2). In addition, in both experiments switch costs between the senses were positively correlated when the sensory modality of the task repeated across trials and not when it switched. The collective evidence supports the independence of control processes mediating task switching and modality switching and also the hypothesis that switch costs reflect competitive interference between neural circuits.

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