Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 8, pp 2263–2275 | Cite as

Free choice tasks as random generation tasks: an investigation through working memory manipulations

  • Christoph NaefgenEmail author
  • Markus Janczyk
Research Article


Free choice tasks are tasks in which two or more equally valid response options per stimulus exist from which participants can choose. In investigations of the putative difference between self-generated and externally triggered actions, they are often contrasted with forced choice tasks, in which only one response option is considered correct. Usually, responses in free choice tasks are slower when compared with forced choice task responses, which may point to a qualitative difference in response selection. It was, however, also suggested that free choice tasks are in fact random generation tasks. Here, we tested the prediction that in this case, randomness of the free choice responses depends on working memory (WM) load. In Experiment 1, participants were provided with varying levels of external WM support in the form of displayed previous choices. In Experiment 2, WM load was induced via a concurrent n-back task. The data generally confirm the prediction: in Experiment 1, WM support improved both randomness and speed of responses. In Experiment 2, randomness decreased and responses slowed down with increasing WM load. These results suggest that free choice tasks have much in common with random generation tasks.


Free choice Forced choice Action selection Working memory Random generation 



This research was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; German Research Foundation), grant JA 2307/1–2 awarded to Markus Janczyk. Work of MJ is further supported by the Institutional Strategy of the University of Tübingen (DFG ZUK 63). We thank Davood Gozli for helpful comments on a previous version of this manuscript. In addition, Cosima Schneider and Moritz Durst provided valuable feedback that improved this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEberhard Karls University of TübingenTübingenGermany

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