Serial or parallel proactive control of components of task-set? A task-switching investigation with concurrent EEG and eye-tracking

Cai Longman*, Heike Elchlepp, Stephen Monsell, Aureliu Lavric

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Among the issues examined by studies of cognitive control in multitasking is whether processes underlying performance in the different tasks occur serially or in parallel. Here we ask a similar question about processes that pro-actively control task-set. In task-switching experiments, several indices of task-set preparation have been extensively documented, including anticipatory orientation of gaze to the task-relevant location (an unambiguous marker of reorientation of attention), and a positive polarity brain potential over the posterior cortex (whose functional significance is less well understood). We examine whether these markers of preparation occur in parallel or serially, and in what order. On each trial a cue required participants to make a semantic classification of one of three digits presented simultaneously, with the location of each digit consistently associated with one of three classification tasks (e.g., if the task was odd/even, the digit at the top of the display was relevant). The EEG positivity emerged following, and appeared time-locked to, the anticipatory fixation on the task-relevant location, which might suggest serial organisation. However, the fixation-locked positivity was not better defined than the cue-locked positivity; in fact, for the trials with the earliest fixations the positivity was better time-locked to the cue onset. This is more consistent with (re)orientation of spatial attention occurring in parallel with, but slightly before, the reconfiguration of other task-set components indexed by the EEG positivity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107984
Number of pages13
Early online date30 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2021


  • serial vs. parallel processing
  • cognitive control
  • task-set
  • task switching
  • EEG
  • eye-tracking


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