The Influence of Verbal and Spatial Working Memory Load on the Time Course of the Simon Effect

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The Simon effect refers to the relatively poorer response times and accuracy when responding to targets that appear in a task-irrelevant spatial location that is incongruent with the location of the correct response key, compared with targets that appear in spatially congruent locations. Like Stroop and flanker effects, the Simon effect is thought to result from conflict between an irrelevant response tendency and an intended response. Because attentional control has been linked to conflict resolution, the Simon task has been proffered as a possible tool for measuring the efficacy of executive control mechanisms. These mechanisms are also involved in working memory (WM) processes, and are thought to be responsible for maintaining information in the presence of continued processing or distraction. The present study investigated the interface between WM and attention by examining the time course of the Simon effect over the response time distributions under varying WM load conditions. Participants completed verbal 0-back, spatial 0-back, verbal 2-back, and spatial 2-back tasks. Results show that the Simon effect is diminished in high WM load tasks compared with low-load tasks, and that the Simon effect interacts with the spatial task domain such that the effect persists across the distribution of response times. In contrast, the Simon effect peaks and decays in verbal tasks. The results demonstrate that the Simon effect interacts with WM load and task domain. The results suggest that the effect is more modifiable than expected, and support a complex interface between WM and attentional control.

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