Are Stimulus–Response Rules Represented Phonologically for Task-Set Preparation and Maintenance?

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Accounts of task-set control generally assume that the current task’s stimulus–response (S-R) rules must be elevated to a privileged state of activation. How are they represented in this state? In 3 task-cuing experiments, we tested the hypothesis that phonological working memory is used to represent S-R rules for task-set control by getting participants to switch between 2 sets of arbitrary S-R rules and manipulating the articulatory duration (Experiment 1) or phonological similarity (Experiments 2 and 3) of the names of the stimulus terms. The task cue specified which of 2 objects (Experiment 1) or consonants (Experiment 2) in a display to identify with a key press. In Experiment 3, participants switched between identifying an object/consonant and its color/visual texture. After practice, neither the duration nor the similarity of the stimulus terms had detectable effects on overall performance, task-switch cost, or its reduction with preparation. Only in the initial single-task training blocks was phonological similarity a significant handicap. Hence, beyond a very transient role, there is no evidence that (declarative) phonological working memory makes a functional contribution to representing S-R rules for task-set control, arguably because once learned, they are represented in nonlinguistic procedural working memory.

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