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How task representations guide attention: Further evidence for the shielding function of task sets

American Psychological Association
Publication Date
  • 150 Psychologie
  • Linguistics


To pursue goal directed behavior, the cognitive system must be shielded against interference from irrelevant information. Aside from the online adjustment of cognitive control widely discussed in the literature, an additional mechanism of preventive goal shielding is suggested that circumvents irrelevant information from being processed in the first place. Participants had to react to 8 different words depicting clothing items that were presented in front of line drawings that could be either semantically related (clothes) or unrelated (animals with spatial orientation) to the target words. Participants either learned the stimulus–response (S–R) mappings by heart or used 1 task set (TS). In the S–R group, semantically related and unrelated distractors interfered with performance, whereas in the TS group, only semantically related distractors interfered, and unrelated distractors had no effect. It follows that task representations based on a general TS help to focus attention on relevant information, thereby preventing the processing of irrelevant information.

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