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Self-organized versus externally controlled task scheduling when facing multiple cognitive task requirements (2015-2018; 2018-2021)


Andrea Kiesel

Prof. Dr. Andrea Kiesel                          

Principal Investigator 

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Irina Monno

Irina Monno      

PhD Candidate    

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Jeff Miller

Prof. Dr. Jeff Miller

Project Collaborator

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Former Team Members

Victor Mittelstädt

Dr. Victor Mittelstädt                          

Former PhD Candidate                                    

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Abstract (2018-2021)

In many multitasking situations, we can ourselves decide in which order we schedule the tasks that have to be performed. In this project, we compare conditions in which participants themselves organize how to cope with multiple cognitive task requirements with conditions in which task organization is externally controlled and thus task scheduling is pre-determined. In addition, we investigate the interplay of task decisions and task performance in variants of the voluntary task switching (VTS) paradigm to scrutinized flexibility in multitasking.

In the first part of the project, we advanced three lines of research. First, we showed that participants who themselves organize task order profit from the possibility to see the alternative tasks while performing a task – indicated by smaller or even reversed costs when switching tasks. Yet, task organization also came across with costs, because participants indicated overall more effort in self-organized compared to externally controlled task switching. Second, we evolved a novel variant of the VTS paradigm, the self-organized task switching paradigm. With this paradigm, we were able to show that participants chose task order depending on the performance costs related to task switches compared to task repetitions. Third, we demonstrated that participants flexibly chose task order when either switch costs or task difficulty varied.

The objectives for the second period of the proposed project are based on these findings that participants adapt switching behavior according to switch costs. In the second part of the project, we aim to focus on five research topics. First, we aim to optimize our self-organized task switching paradigm. Second, we want to identify manipulations that support flexible adaptation. Third, we plan a collaboration project to examine inter-individual differences in flexible adaptation across multitasking paradigms. Forth, we aim to elaborate on the mechanisms that enable participants to choose task order in relation to task performance.

In detail, we ask whether the ability to adapt task choice to optimize performance relates to the ability to perceive time. And fifth, we want to investigate whether participants adapt their task choices to difficulties regarding perceptual and motor performance. This project specifically contributes to the priority program SPP 1772’s flexibility perspective. Regarding perspectives and objectives (Table 1 of the coordination proposal), this project is focused on the objective (2) Cognitive control and intentional set. The project also contributes to the flexibility perspective, objective (1) Basic mechanisms of capacity sharing and parallel processing of independent tasks and objective (3) Situational influence of multitask performance, and it contributes to objectives from the plasticity perspective: (3) Expertise and automatization and (4) Organizational measures and interventions improving multitask performance.


Abstract (2015-2018)

This project aims to compare conditions in which participants themselves organize how to cope with multiple cognitive task requirements with conditions in which task organization is externally controlled and thus task scheduling is pre-determined. In addition, it aims to investigate how persons deal with multiple cognitive task requirements. In a pilot study, participants were requested to perform four different tasks. The respectively next items for the four tasks were presented in parallel and consequently participants could use this preview to operate on the tasks simultaneously (like in PRP studies). Yet, responding to each task was strictly sequential (like in task switching paradigms). In the “free choice condition”, participants themselves indicated which task they performed in each trial. In the “cued task condition”, a cue indicated which task to perform next. To control for task transition effects a yoked design was applied. For each participant in the free choice condition, there was a yoked person in the cued task condition who worked through the items of the four tasks in exactly the same order. The pilot study revealed three rather unexpected results. (1) Participants responded faster in task switch than task repetition trials because of the possibility to preview the next item of each alternative task. (2) The free choice setting revealed a tradeoff between switch benefits due to preview on the one hand and a tendency to avoid task switches due to the necessity of reconfiguration on the other hand. (3) When comparing participants in the free choice condition with participants in the cued condition regarding performance in task switch trials and measures of fatigue / stress, results diverged: Participants in the free choice condition responded faster, yet revealed higher fatigue/stress values than participants in the cued condition probably because the task choice process supports to optimize task performance yet itself is demanding. The objectives of the project are to gain further insights into the preview, reconfiguration and task choice processes and to assess their interaction. Three experiments are planned to assess the impact of preview on the trade-off between switch advantages on the one hand and avoidance of task switches and increased stress/effort indicators for freely chosen task order compared to cued task order on the other hand. Four experiments aim to elaborate on the assumption that a person chooses tasks to optimize reconfiguration / performance and one further experiments will elucidate whether it is possible to support performance in multiple cognitive requirements by cueing tasks in an order that had been chosen by a person before. Finally, four experiments are planned to examine determinants of task choice and to discuss in a possible cooperation whether the factors task difficulty, task similarity, and training on tasks similarly impact on task prioritization and task order.


Project Output


Monno, I., Aufschnaiter, S., Ehret, S., Kiesel, A., Poljac, E., & Thomaschke, R. (2022). Time-based task expectancy: perceptual task indicator expectancy or expectancy of post-perceptual task components? Psychol Res, 86(5), 1665-1682.

Straub, E. R., Dames, H., Kiesel, A., & Dignath, D. (2022). Does body posture reduce the Stroop effect? Evidence from two conceptual replications and a meta-analysis. Acta Psychol (Amst), 224, 103497.

Straub, E. R., Schmidts, C., Kunde, W., Zhang, J., Kiesel, A., & Dignath, D. (2022). Limitations of cognitive control on emotional distraction - Congruency in the Color Stroop task does not modulate the Emotional Stroop effect. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 22(1), 21-41.

Spitzer, M. W. H., Kiesel, A., & Dignath, D. (2022). Performance errors influence voluntary task choices. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform, 48(6), 665-688.

Dignath, D., & Kiesel, A. (2021). Further Evidence for the Binding and Retrieval of Control-States From the Flanker Task. Exp Psychol, 68(5), 264-273.

Langhanns, C., Monno, I., Maurer, H., Ebel, J., Müller, H., & Kiesel, A. (2021). The self-organized task switching paradigm: Movement effort matters. Acta Psychologica, 221. doi 10.1016/j.actpsy.2021.103446

Mittelstädt, V., Schaffernak, I., Miller, J., & Kiesel, A. (2021). Balancing cognitive and environmental constraints when deciding to switch tasks: Exploring self-reported task-selection strategies in self-organized multitasking. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74 (4), 598–609.

Rieger, T., Mittelstädt, V., Dignath, D., & Kiesel, A. (2021). Investigating Limits of Task Prioritization in Dual-Tasking: Evidence from the Prioritized Processing and the Psychological Refractory Period Paradigms. Psychological Research, 85(1), 384-396. DOI: 10.1007/s00426-019-01250-x

Kiesel, A., & Dignath, D. (2017). Effort in Multitasking: Local and global assessment of effort. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:111. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00111.

Mittelstädt, V., Dignath, D., Schmidt-Ott, M., & Kiesel, A. (2018). Exploring the repetition bias in voluntary task switching. Psychological Research, 82, 78–91.

Mittelstädt, V., Miller, J., & Kiesel, A. (2018). Trading off switch costs and stimulus availability benefits: An investigation of voluntary task switching behavior in a predictable dynamic multitasking environment. Memory & Cognition, 46, 699-715.

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