The role of cue–target translation in backward inhibition of attentional set


Backward inhibition (BI) refers to a reaction time cost incurred when returning to a recently abandoned task compared to returning to a task not recently performed. The effect has been proposed to reflect an inhibitory mechanism that aids transition from one task to another. The question arises as to precisely what aspects of a task may be inhibited and when the process takes place. Recent work has suggested a crucial role for response-related components of the task, which occur late in the typical trial structure (cue–target–response). In contrast to this suggestion, the authors present evidence that the way in which the task is cued can also modulate BI. Specifically, they find that the less transparent the cue–target relationship, the greater the level of BI. This also demonstrates that BI can be triggered at early stages of the trial structure, specifically during task preparation and prior to response processes. The authors conclude that BI is not tied to any particular component of the task structure but arises from whatever component generates the greatest intertrial conflict.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 35, 466–476