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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

January 2009, Vol. 21, No. 1, Pages 105-118
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21009)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Distinct Neurophysiological Mechanisms Mediate Mixing Costs and Switch Costs
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Using event-related potentials (ERPs), we investigated the neural response associated with preparing to switch from one task to another. We used a cued task-switching paradigm in which the interval between the cue and the imperative stimulus was varied. The difference between response time (RT) to trials on which the task switched and trials on which the task repeated (switch cost) decreased as the interval between cue and target (CTI) was increased, demonstrating that subjects used the CTI to prepare for the forthcoming task. However, the RT on repeated-task trials in blocks during which the task could switch (mixed-task blocks) were never as short as RTs during single-task blocks (mixing cost). This replicates previous research. The ERPs in response to the cue were compared across three conditions: single-task trials, switch trials, and repeat trials. ERP topographic differences were found between single-task trials and mixed-task (switch and repeat) trials at ∼160 and ∼310 msec after the cue, indicative of changes in the underlying neural generator configuration as a basis for the mixing cost. In contrast, there were no topographic differences evident between switch and repeat trials during the CTI. Rather, the response of statistically indistinguishable generator configurations was stronger at ∼310 msec on switch than on repeat trials. By separating differences in ERP topography from differences in response strength, these results suggest that a reappraisal of previous research is appropriate.