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The influence of response conflict on voluntary task switching: a novel test of the conflict monitoring model


The conflict monitoring model of cognitive control posits that response conflict triggers a top-down enhancement of a task’s representation in working memory. In the present study, we conducted a novel test of the conflict monitoring model using a voluntary task switching paradigm. We predicted that a task’s representation would be enhanced following events associated with high response conflict (i.e., incongruent trials and incorrect responses), leading participants to voluntarily choose to repeat that task more often after these events than after events associated with low response conflict (i.e., congruent trials and correct responses). In two experiments, performance following incongruent trials was consistent with the conflict monitoring model. However, performance following incorrect trials did not fit with the model’s predictions. These findings provide novel support for the conflict monitoring model while revealing new effects of incorrect trials that the model cannot explain.

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  1. 1.

    In the conflict monitoring model (Botvinick, et al., 2001), errors are linked to a shift along the speed-accuracy tradeoff function that leads participants to respond more slowly and more accurately after making an error than after making a correct response. However, there is no reason why such a shift could not co-occur with an increase in the activation of the current task’s representation in working memory.

  2. 2.

    The lack of an overall task-repetition bias is unlikely to have resulted from the end-of-block feedback, which indicated the proportion of trials in which a participant had chosen to switch tasks. Indeed, in a different study from our laboratory, we observed a task-repetition bias even when such feedback was given (Orr, Gehring, & Weissman, 2010). However, the lack of an overall task-repetition bias may have resulted from the variable task–key mapping that was employed.


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The authors thank Wendelin Diab and Craig Salm for their assistance with running participants, and Raymond Y. Cho, Catherine M. Arrington, and one anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was supported by a Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant and Psychology Dissertation Grant to JMO and by startup funds from the University of Michigan to DHW.

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Correspondence to Joseph M. Orr.

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Orr, J.M., Carp, J. & Weissman, D.H. The influence of response conflict on voluntary task switching: a novel test of the conflict monitoring model. Psychological Research 76, 60–73 (2012).

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  • Switch Cost
  • Congruency Effect
  • Incongruent Trial
  • Congruent Trial
  • Reaction Time Data