Temporal cue–target overlap is not essential for backward inhibition in task switching


Lag 2 repetition costs are a performance cost observed when participants return to a task after just one intervening trial of a different task, compared to returning after a longer interval (ABA vs. CBA sequences, where A, B, C are tasks). This effect is known as backward inhibition (BI) and is thought to reflect the need to overcome inhibition applied specifically to Task “A” during disengagement at trial n – 1. Druey and Hübner (2007) have suggested that employment of such a specific inhibitory mechanism relies upon the cue and the target of the task overlapping temporally. We provide evidence across three experiments (including a direct replication attempt) that this is not the case, and that the presence of task-specific BI relies to some extent on the need to translate the cue–target relationship into working memory. Additionally, we provide evidence that faster responses in no overlap conditions are driven by low-level perceptual differences between target displays across overlap conditions. We conclude that BI is an effective sequential control mechanism, employed equally in cases of temporally overlapping and temporally separated cues and targets.

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 2069–2080