Intertrial RT variability affects level of target-related interference in cued task switching

Alexander L Provost, Sharna Jamadar, Andrew Heathcote, Scott D. Brown, Frini Karayanidis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


In cued task switching, performance relies on proactive and reactive control processes. Proactive control is evident in the reduction in switch cost under conditions that promote advance preparation. However, the residual switch cost that remains under conditions of optimal proactive control indicates that, on switch trials, the target continues to elicit interference that is resolved using reactive control. We examined whether posttarget interference varies as a function of trial-by-trial variability in preparation. We investigated target congruence effects on behavior and target-locked ERPs extracted across the response time (RT) distribution, using orthogonal polynomial trend analysis (OPTA). Early N2, late N2, and P3b amplitudes were differentially modulated across the RT distribution. There was a large congruence effect on late N2 and P3b, which increased with RT for P3b amplitude, but did not vary with trial type. This suggests that target properties impact switch and repeat trials equally and do not contribute to residual switch cost. P3b amplitude was larger, and latency later, for switch than repeat trials, and this difference became larger with increasing RT, consistent with sustained carryover effects on highly prepared switch trials. These results suggest that slower, less prepared responses are associated with greater target-related interference during target identification and processing, as well as slower, more difficult decision processes. They also suggest that neither general nor switch-specific preparation can ameliorate the effects of target-driven interference. These findings highlight the theoretical advances achieved by integrating RT distribution analyses with ERP and OPTA to examine trial-by-trial variability in performance and brain function.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12971
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Congruence
  • ERPs
  • OPTA
  • Reactive control
  • Task switching

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