Determinants of the Benefit for Consistent Stimulus-Response Mappings in Dual-Task Performance of Four-Choice Tasks

By Proctor, Robert W.; Vu, Kim-Phuong L. | Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Determinants of the Benefit for Consistent Stimulus-Response Mappings in Dual-Task Performance of Four-Choice Tasks


Proctor, Robert W., Vu, Kim-Phuong L., Attention, Perception and Psychophysics


Reaction times are shorter when the stimulus-response mappings for pairs of three-choice tasks are consistent (both corresponding or both mirrored) than when they are inconsistent. The benefit for consistent mirrored mappings is evident at the side positions for each task, for which the responses are crossed, but not at the middle position, for which the response is corresponding. In the present study, we report experiments in which we tested implications of an emergent mapping-choice account of the consistency benefit using pairs of four-choice tasks. This procedure allows crossed responses for all positions when the mapping is mirrored and use of mixed mappings for which one pair of stimuli and responses within a task has a corresponding assignment and the other a crossed assignment. Results showed that when a pure corresponding or pure mirrored mapping was used, there was a consistency benefit for both the middle and side positions. However, when the mixed mapping was introduced, the consistency benefit for that mapping depended on the overall complexity of the set of individual stimulus-response pairings for the combined tasks. A mapping choice between Tasks 1 and 2 is only one of several emergent processes that contribute to response-selection efficiency in dual-task contexts.

People have difficulty performing two tasks concurrently. For example, cell phone use produces deficits in driving and pedestrian behaviors that may have undesirable consequences (e.g., Strayer, Drews, & Johnston, 2003). Likewise, a medical doctor may be distracted by having to answer a query from a colleague and may consequently fail to execute an intended action (e.g., Zhang, Patel, Johnson, & Shortliffe, 2004). Laboratory studies have demonstrated that much of the difficulty in dual-task performance arises from central-processing demands imposed by response selection (e.g., Pashler, 1994). Similarly, costs of executing concurrent bimanual reaching movements of different amplitudes or directions to target stimuli are due primarily to limitations in response- selection processes (e.g., Albert, Weigelt, Hazeltine, & Ivry, 2007). Therefore, consideration of factors that influence response-selection efficiency is vital to understanding and minimizing the difficulties associated with dualtask performance.

One factor that influences response-selection efficiency is the relation between stimulus-response (S-R) mappings for the two tasks. Duncan (1979) had participants perform pairs of three-choice reaction tasks to visual stimuli. For both tasks, the stimuli were vertical lines that could appear in any of three horizontal positions. The positions for Task 1 were located to the left of a fixation cross, and responses were made to the stimulus's location by pressing one of three keys with the ring, middle, or index finger of the left hand. The positions for Task 2 were to the right of the fixation cross, and responses were made with the same fingers on the right hand. In different trial blocks, participants performed using all pairings of two mappings-corresponding and mirrored-for each task. The corresponding mapping required a response at the location corresponding to the stimulus, whereas the mirrored mapping required opposite-or crossed-responses for the two side positions but the same response for the middle position.

Two of the Task 1-Task 2 mapping combinations were consistent (corresponding for both tasks or mirrored for both), and two were inconsistent (corresponding for Task 1 and mirrored for Task 2, or vice versa). Duncan (1979) examined performance only for the two side positions of each task, for which the responses with the mirrored mapping were crossed. The mean reaction times (RTs) for Task 1 (RT1) and for Task 2 (RT2) were shorter when the mappings were consistent than when they were inconsistent, a finding that we call the consistency benefit (alternatively, it is an inconsistency cost). Although RTs for consistent mirrored mappings were longer than those for consistent corresponding mappings, they were still shorter than the RTs for either of the two conditions in which the mappings were inconsistent. …

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