Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

On the Importance of Being First: Serial Order Effects in the Interaction between Action Plans and Ongoing Actions

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

On the Importance of Being First: Serial Order Effects in the Interaction between Action Plans and Ongoing Actions

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 July 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract When we plan sequences of actions, we must hold some elements of the sequence in working memory (WM) while we execute others. Research shows that execution of an action can be delayed if it partly overlaps (vs. does not overlap) with another action plan maintained in WM (partial repetition cost). However, it is not known whether all features of the action maintained in WM interfere equally with current actions. Most serial models of memory and action assume that interference will be equal, because all action features in the sequence should be activated to an equal degree in parallel; others assume that action features earlier in the sequence will interfere more than those later in the sequence, because earlier features will be more active. Using a partial repetition paradigm, this study examined whether serial position of action features in action sequences maintained in WM have an influence on current actions. Two stimulus events occurred in a sequence, and participants planned and maintained an action sequence to the first event (action A) in WM while executing a speeded response to the second event (action B). Results showed delayed execution of action B when it matched the first feature in the action A sequence (partial repetition cost), but not when it matched the last feature. These findings suggest that serial order is represented in the action plan prior to response execution, consistent with models that assume that serial order is represented by a primacy gradient of parallel feature activation prior to action execution.

Keywords Action planning .Working memory . Serial order . Repetition costs

Everyday actions like driving home from work and cooking dinner require action planning. We must decide what to do and when to do it (Keele, 1968; Lashley, 1951; Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960). In some cases, we plan just a single action, like reaching for a coffee cup (Hommel, 2004). In other cases, we plan sequences of actions: Choosing a route home involves choosing a series of turns; making chicken wings involves frying the wings, preparing the sauce, and pouring the sauce on the wings (Houghton & Hartley, 1995; Jeannerod, 1997; Rhodes, Bullock, Verwey, Averbeck, & Page, 2004). When we plan sequences of actions, we must hold some elements of the sequence in memory while we execute others (Logan, 2004; Schneider & Logan, 2006). This article is concerned with interactions between the action plans we hold in memory and the actions we carry out (Logan, 2007), asking whether all parts of a sequential plan held in memory interfere equally with an ongoing action. Some theories of serial memory predict that all components of the action plan will interfere, because they are all active at the same time (Anderson & Matessa, 1997; Crump & Logan, 2010; Hartley & Houghton, 1996; Houghton & Hartley, 1995; Lashley, 1951; Rosenbaum, Inhoff, & Gordon, 1984). Other theories predict that earlier components of the action plan will interfere more than later components, because earlier components are more active than later ones (Averbeck, Chafee, Crowe, & Georgopoulos, 2002; Page & Norris, 1998; Rhodes et al., 2004). We tested these predictions in an experiment that examined serial order effects in the interaction between ongoing actions and action plans held in working memory (WM).

Research shows that executing an action plan can be delayed if it partly overlaps with an action plan maintained in WM. For example, executing a left-hand action is delayed if it shares a feature code ("left") with an action plan maintained in WM ("left hand move up"), as compared with when it does not ("right hand move up"; Stoet & Hommel, 1999; Wiediger & Fournier, 2008). This delay is referred to as a partial repetition cost. These costs appear restricted to events in which action features maintained inWMare integrated into a single action plan (Fournier & Gallimore, 2013; Mattson, Fournier, & Behmer, 2013) and the current action imposes a demand on WM (Fournier et al. …

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