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01-09-2012 | Original Article | Uitgave 5/2012

Psychological Research 5/2012

The cost of serially chaining two cognitive operations

Psychological Research > Uitgave 5/2012
Zhao Fan, Krish Singh, Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, Mariano Sigman, Stanislas Dehaene, Kimron Shapiro


As Turing (1936, Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society) noted, a fundamental process in human cognition is to effect chained sequential operations in which the second operation requires an input from the preceding one. Although a great deal is known about the costs associated with ‘independent’ (unrelated) operations, e.g., from the classic psychological refractory period paradigm, far less is known about those operations to which Turing referred. We present the results of two behavioural experiments, where participants were required to perform two speeded sequential tasks that were either chained or independent. Both experiments reveal the reaction time cost of chaining, over and above classical dual-task serial costs. Moreover, the chaining operation significantly altered the distribution of reaction times relative to the Independent condition in terms of an increased mean and variance. These results are discussed in terms of the cognitive architecture underlying the serial chaining of cognitive operations.

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