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Trends Cogn Sci. 2003 Mar;7(3):134-140.

Task switching.

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School of Psychology University of Exeter, EX4 4QG, Exeter, UK


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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