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The role of separation of representations in sequential actions in multitasking (2015-2018; 2018-2021)


Hilde Haider 

Prof. Dr. Hilde Haider                     

Principal Investigator

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Robert Gaschler 

Prof. Dr. Robert Gaschler

Principal Investigator

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 Lasse Pelzer

Lasse Pelzer 

PhD Candidate

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Christoph Naefgen

Post-doctoral Fellow 

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Former Team Members

Eva Roettger 

Eva Röttger                                          

PhD Candidate 

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Fang Zhao 

Dr. Fang Zhao                        

Post-doctoral Fellow 

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Abstract (2018-2021)

Many everyday situations afford to simultaneously execute two or more tasks consisting of inherent action sequences (e.g., cooking). This sequencing has drawn relatively little attention in the literature on multitasking (Botvinick & Bylsma, 2005; Schiffer, Waszak & Yeung, 2015). Cognitive-control models of dual task performance postulate a strategic bottleneck which serves to hinder crosstalk between the two simultaneously conducted tasks (e.g., Hazeltine et al., 2006; Logan & Gordon 2001; Meyer & Kieras, 1997; Miller, Ulrich & Rolke, 2009; Salvucci & Taatgen, 2008; Tombu & Jolicoeur, 2003). They thus could easily incorporate findings showing that such inherent sequences alter dual task costs, while for structural bottleneck theories it could be difficult to reconcile such findings. Our findings of the first funding period have shown that temporal separation reduces the detrimental effects of dual tasking on sequence learning. We further specified the Schmidtke and Heuer (1997)-thesis that the randomness of the sequence of stimuli and responses in the task paired with the Serial Reaction Time Task (SRTT) disrupts sequence learning. Our results (i.e., Röttger et al., 2017) and discussions among movement science and cognitive psychology groups in the SPP1772 (cf. Broeker et al. 2017) suggest that participants automatically predict (in line with predictive coding) upcoming events and can fail to respect task boundaries when doing so. We assume that across-task predictions involving a task with random stimulus sequence disturbs sequence learning and performance in dual tasking. A pilot study shows first evidence for across-task prediction based on crosstalk between (a) the current stimulus in the task with random sequence and (b) the stimuli due in the next two trials in the SRTT. The first goal (Q1 series) therefore is to provide further evidence for the role of across-task predictions in dual-tasking. In the Q2 series, we focus on the possibility of content-dependent separation of the two tasks, as this should allow keeping the two concurrently presented task-sets separate to foster parallel processing and by this address the central problem in multitasking (Hazeltine & Schumacher, 2016). While the reduction of dual-task costs by temporal separation is predicted by either structural or strategic bottleneck models of multitasking, content-dependent separation is difficult to reconcile with the first class of models. Building on characteristics of everyday tasks, we will ask whether and how task separation is enhanced by: (Q2-A) separable outcomes of action effects, (Q2-B) superordinate goals and natural sequences or (Q2-C) conflicts. This can help to better understand why dual-task costs arise and to link findings from cognitive experiments with the motor research groups of SPP1772 who also discuss practice-induced separation of processing into modular structures, laying the ground for integrating these lines of research.

Abstract (2015-2018)

Based on theoretical proposals of, for instance, Hazeltine, Ruthruff, and Remington (2006), we assume that one important functional role of the bottleneck in multitasking paradigms is to separate the processing streams of the simultaneously conducted tasks (separation-of-representation account). This assumption is supported by findings of Schumacher and Schwarb (2009), who investigated the effects of dual task load on implicit sequence learning. They only found sequence learning if the experimental condition provided temporal delays or priority separation between the auditory-vocal and the visual-manual task. Building on these promising findings, the general goal of the proposed two series of experiments is to test the separation-of-representation account in the context of implicit sequence learning. The first series of experiments focus on the question of whether and how the dual task bottleneck can contribute to supporting implicit sequence learning. The second series then turns the question around by asking whether and how implicit sequence learning might support dual-task performance. Thus, even though acquisition and usage of sequence knowledge has drawn relatively little attention in the literature on multitasking, we argue for a methodological and conceptual linking of problems tackled in the literature on sequence learning and problems addressed in multitasking. This would contribute to our understanding of the functional role of the limitations usually found in multitasking situations.

Our research questions centrally contribute to the priority program SPP 1772 which is aimed at an integration of multitasking research from a cognitive psychology vs. movement science perspective. With its basis in movement science (e.g. Willingham, 1998) the study of implicit sequence learning is located at the junction of these perspectives which operationally can be characterized by employing discrete responses vs. continuous movements. Our project underlines that sequencing aspects are relevant for understanding dual task performance and can be studied by expanding established setups of dual task research in the cognitive psychology tradition. This reduces the conceptual leap to the sequencing aspects involved in the control of continuous movements under dual task demands, supporting to establish an interdisciplinary research field.


Project Output


Naefgen, C., Blech, C., Kriechbaumer, M., Haider, H., Ram, N., & Gaschler, R. (2023). Between- and within-subject covariance perspectives matter for investigations into the relationship between single- and dual-tasking performance, Methods in Psychology, 8, e100110.

Aufschnaiter, S., Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Kiesel, A., & Thomaschke, R. (2022). Investigating time-based expectancy beyond binary timing scenarios: evidence from a paradigm employing three predictive pre-target intervals. Psychological Research, 86, 2007–2020.

Leh, A., Langhanns, C., Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Müller, H., (2022). Muscle activity in explicit and implicit sequence learning: Exploring additional measures of learning and certainty via tensor decomposition. Acta Psychologica, 226, e103587.

Pelzer, L., Haffmann, J., Naefgen, C., Gaschler, R., Haider, H. (2022). Task-separation in dual-tasking: How action effects support the separation of the task streams. Acta Psychologica, 222, e103464.

Pelzer, L., Naefgen, C., Gaschler, R., & Haider, H. (2022). Element-level features in conjoint episodes in dual-tasking. Psychol Res.

Naefgen, C., & Gaschler, R. (2022). Trade-Off vs. Common Factor-Differentiating Resource-Based Explanations From Their Alternative. Front Psychol, 13, 774938.

Naefgen, C., Gaschler, R., Ionescu, B., Pelzer, L., & Haider, H. (2022). Given the option, people avoid incongruent responses in a dual-tasking situation. Acta Psychol (Amst), 228, 103626.

Mattes, A., Tavera, F., Ophey, A., Roheger, M., Gaschler, R., & Haider, H. (2021). Parallel and serial task processing in the PRP paradigm: a drift-diffusion model approach. Psychol Res, 85(4), 1529-1552.

Pelzer, L., Naefgen, C., Gaschler, R., Haider, H. (2021). Learning of across- and within-task contingencies modulates partial-repetition costs in dual-tasking. Psychological Research.

Röttger, E., Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Haider, H. (2021). Why does dual-tasking hamper implicit sequence learning? Journal of Cognition , 4(1), 1–22. doi: 10.5334/joc.136

Mattes, A., Tavera, F., Ophey, A., Roheger, M., Gaschler, R., Haider, H. (2020). Parallel and serial task processing in the PRP-Paradigm: A drift diffusion model approach. Psychological Research. doi: 10.1007/s00426-020-01337-w

Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Kneschke, A., Radler, S., Gausmann, M., Duttine, C., & Haider, H. (2020). Origami folding: Taxing resources necessary for the acquisition of sequential skills. PLoS ONE, 15(10), e0240226. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240226

Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Nöhring, D.O., Röttger, E., Haider, H. (2020). Sequential modulation of across-task congruency in the serial reaction time task. Acta Psychologica, 205, 205, 103043. doi: j.actpsy.2020.103043

Gaschler, R., Zhao, F., Röttger, E., Panzer, S., & Haider, H. (2019). More than hitting the correct key quickly - Spatial variability in touch screen response location under multitasking in the Serial Reaction Time Task. Experimental Psychology, 66(3), 207–220. doi: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000446

Röttger, E., Haider, H., Zhao, F., & Gaschler. R. (2019). Implicit sequence learning despite multitasking - the role of across-task predictability. Psychological Research, 83, 526–543. doi: 10.1007/s00426-017-0920-4

Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Schneider, L., Thomaschke, R., Röttger, E., & Haider, H. (2019). Sequence knowledge on When and What supports dual-tasking. Journal of Cognition, 2(1): 18, 1–14. doi: 10.5334/joc.76

Gaschler, R., Kemper, M., Zhao, F., Pumpe, I., Ruderisch, C.-B., Röttger, E., & Haider, H. (2018). Differential effects of cue-based and sequence knowledge-based predictability on multitasking performance. Acta Psychologica, 191, 76-86. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2018.09.004

Zhao, F., Gaschler, R., Travi, T., Imgrund, B., Kossak, V., Röttger, E., & Haider, H. (2018). Effects of overlap between consecutive words on speeded typing inform about representation of serial order within words. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 14, 124-136. doi: 10.5709/acp-0244-6 [PDF:]

Wirth, M., & Gaschler, R. (2017). Challenging Cognitive Control by Mirrored Stimuli in Working Memory Matching. Front Psychol, 8, 653.


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