Phasic Alertness and Residual Switch Costs in Task Switching

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Abstract

Residual switch costs are deficits in task-switching performance that occur despite considerable time to prepare for a task switch. In the present study, the author investigated whether increased phasic alertness modulates residual switch costs. In 2 experiments involving the task-cuing procedure, subjects performed numerical categorization tasks on target digits, with and without an alerting stimulus presented shortly before the target (alert and no-alert trials, respectively). Switch costs were obtained that decreased with a longer cue–target interval, indicating subjects engaged in preparation, but large residual switch costs remained. Alerting effects were obtained in the form of faster overall performance on alert than on no-alert trials, indicating the alerting stimuli increased phasic alertness. Critically, residual switch costs were similar on alert and no-alert trials in both experiments, unaffected by manipulations of alert type, alert availability, and alert–target interval. Implications of the results for understanding the relationship between phasic alertness and cognitive control in task switching are discussed.

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