The coupling between spatial attention and other components of task-set: a task switching investigation

Cai Longman, Aureliu Lavric, Stephen Monsell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Is spatial attention reconfigured independently of, or in tandem with, other task-set components when the task changes? We tracked the eyes of participants cued to perform one of three digit-classification tasks, each consistently associated with a distinct location. Previously we observed, on task switch trials, a substantial delay in orientation to the task-relevant location and tendency to fixate the location of the previously relevant task—“attentional inertia”. In the present experiments the cues specified (and instructions emphasized) the relevant location rather than the current task. In Experiment 1, with explicit spatial cues (arrows or spatial adverbs), the previously documented attentional handicaps all but disappeared, whilst the performance “switch cost” increased. Hence, attention can become decoupled from other aspects of task-set, but at a cost to the efficacy of task-set preparation. Experiment 2 used arbitrary single-letter cues with instructions and a training regime that encouraged participants to interpret the cue as indicating the relevant location rather than task. As in our previous experiments, and unlike in Experiment 1, we now observed clear switch-induced attentional delay and inertia, suggesting that the natural tendency is for spatial attention and task-set to be coupled and that only quasi-exogenous location cues decouple their reconfiguration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2248-2275
Number of pages28
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number11
Early online date1 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Task switching
  • Spatial attention
  • Task set
  • Attentional set


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