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Investigating task-order control in multitasking situations (2015-2018; 2018-2021)

Team

Torsten Schubert 

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Torsten Schubert           

Principal Investigator

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Tilo Strobach 

Professor Dr. Tilo Strobach 

Principal Investigator

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 Sebastian Kübler

Sebastian Kübler

PhD Candidate

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 Veit Kubik

Veit Kubik

Collaborative Post-doctoral Fellow

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Former Team Members

Peter Frensch

Prof. Dr. Peter A. Frensch

Principal Investigator

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Abstract (2018-2021)

When subjects perform two tasks concurrently, performance is usually impaired compared to when subjects perform the same tasks separately. This can be shown in the dual-task paradigm and is reflected in prolonged reaction times as well as increased error rates in dual- relative to single-tasks. These dual-task costs can be explained by a central processing stage with limited capacity - the so-called central bottleneck - that requires the serial processing of two temporally overlapping tasks. Although there has been a lot of research focused on this central bottleneck, it still remains mostly unknown how the processing order of two tasks that compete for access to this bottleneck is determined. Thus, the objective of our research project is to elucidate the mechanisms that enable task-order coordination in dual-task situations. For this purpose, in the first funding period, we proposed and tested a model of task-order coordination. According to this model, task-order is regulated top-down by a higher order knowledge structure, the task-order set, that contains information about the processing order of both tasks and that has to be maintained active in working memory. In the second funding period, we will continue our work and further test and elaborate our model. In particular, we will investigate which information is necessary in order to activate the appropriate task-order set, how task-order can be influenced by different task contexts, such as instructions, and whether task-order coordination processes can be modulated by training interventions.

Abstract (2015-2018)

When subjects perform two tasks concurrently, performance is usually impaired compared to when subjects perform the same tasks separately, which can be shown in the dual-task paradigm and is reflected in prolonged reaction times as well as increased error rates in both component tasks. These dual-task costs can be explained by a central processing stage with limited capacity - the so-called central bottleneck - that requires the serial processing of two temporally overlapping tasks. Although there has been a lot of research focused on this central bottleneck, the question of how the processing order of two tasks that compete for access to this bottleneck is determined remains open. Thus, the objective of our research project is to elucidate the mechanisms that enable task-order control in dual-task situations. Traditional bottleneck models assume a rather passive queuing mechanism, the so-called “first come, first served”-principle, according to which the processing order at the bottleneck stage is regulated bottom-up by the central arrival times of both tasks, meaning that the task that reaches the bottleneck at first is processed first. However, there is evidence that the processing order can be controlled top-down by a higher order knowledge structure, the task-order set, that contains information about the processing order of both tasks and that guides ongoing task processing. Based on these findings we propose a task-order control model that includes knowledge about those different task-order mechanisms as well as assumptions about the active role of working memory for task processing. In the first series of experiments we will examine the impact of task-order instructions on task-order control mechanisms. As a next step, we will test whether and how task-order control is affected by demands on working memory and task-related factors such as task complexity. Furthermore, we will investigate the interaction between bottom-up and top-down task-order control processes in dual-task situations. Our results will help us to better understand how subjects coordinate temporally overlapping tasks in multitasking situations, and will guide future research on the neural implementation of task-order control as well as on possibilities of its improvement.

 

Project Output

Kübler, S., Reimer, C. B., Strobach, T., & Schubert, T. (2017). The impact of free-order and sequential-order instructions on task-order regulation in dual tasks. Psychological Research. doi: 10.1007/s00426-017- 0910-6.

Kübler, S., & Schubert, T. (2017). Disrupting cognitive control in dual-task situations by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the lateral prefrontal cortex. Clinical Neurophysiology, 128(3), 119.

Schubert, T., Liepelt, R., Kübler, S., & Strobach, T. (2017). Transferability of Dual-Task Coordination Skills after Practice with Changing Component Tasks. Front. Psychol., 8:956.

Strobach, T., & Schubert, T. (2017). Mechanisms of Practice-Related Reductions of Dual-Task Interference with Simple Tasks: Data and Theory. Adv Cogn Psychol., 13(1), 28–41.

Strobach, T., & Schubert, T. (2017). No evidence for task automatization after dual-task training in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 32(1), 28-41.

Reimer, C. B., Strobach, T., & Schubert, T. (2016). Concurrent deployment of visual attention and response selection bottleneck in a dual-task: Electrophysiological and behavioural evidence. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2, 1- 18. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1245348.

Strobach, T., Antonenko, D., Abbarin, M., Escher, M., Flöel, A., & Schubert, T. (in press). Modulation of dual-task control with right prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Experimental BrainResearch.

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