Self-regulatory strategy and executive control : implementation intentions modulate task switching and Simon task performance

Two tasks where failures of cognitive control are especially prevalent are task switching and spatial Simon task paradigms. Both tasks require considerable strategic control for the participant to avoid the costs associated with switching tasks (task-switching paradigm) and to minimize the influence of spatial location (Simon task). In the current study, we assessed whether the use of a self-regulatory strategy known as “implementation intentions” would have any beneficial effects on performance in each of these task domains. Forming an implementation intention (i.e., an if–then plan) is a self- regulatory strategy in which a mental link is created between a pre-specified future cue and a desired goal-directed response, resulting in facilitated goal attainment (Gollwitzer in European Review of Social Psychology, 4, 141–185, 1993, American Psychologist, 54, 493–503, 1999). In Experiment 1, forming implementation intentions in the context of a taskswitching paradigm led to a reduction in switch costs. In Experiment 2, forming implementation intentions reduced the effects of spatial location in a Simon task for the stimulus specified in the implementation intention. Results supported the prediction that the need for high levels of cognitive control can be alleviated to some degree by making if–then plans that specify how one responds to that critical stimuli.
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