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01-07-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2015

Psychological Research 4/2015

Task-specific effects of reward on task switching

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2015
Akina Umemoto, Clay B. Holroyd
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00426-014-0595-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Although cognitive control and reinforcement learning have been researched extensively over the last few decades, only recently have studies investigated their interrelationship. An important unanswered question concerns how the control system decides what task to execute and how vigorously to carry out the task once selected. Based on a recent theory of control formulated according to principles of hierarchical reinforcement learning, we asked whether rewards can affect top-down control over task performance at the level of task representation. Participants were rewarded for correctly performing only one of two tasks in a standard task-switching experiment. Reaction times and error rates were lower for the reinforced task compared to the non-reinforced task. Moreover, the switch cost in error rates for the non-reinforced task was significantly larger compared to the reinforced task, especially for trials in which the imperative stimulus afforded different responses for the two tasks, resulting in a “non-paradoxical” asymmetric switch cost. These findings suggest that reinforcement at the task level resulted in greater application of top-down control rather than in stronger stimulus–response pathways for the rewarded task.

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