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Flexibility of individual multitasking strategies in task-switching with preview: are preferences for serial versus overlapping task processing dependent on between-task conflict?

Brüning, Jovita; Manzey, Dietrich

The prevalence and the efficiency of serial and parallel processing under multiple task demands are highly debated. In the present study, we investigated whether individual preferences for serial or overlapping (parallel) processing represent a permanent predisposition or depend on the risk of crosstalk between tasks. Two groups (n = 91) of participants were tested. One group performed a classical task switching paradigm, enforcing a strict serial processing of tasks. The second group of participants performed the same tasks in a task-switching-with-preview paradigm, recently introduced by Reissland and Manzey (2016), which in principle allows for overlapping processing of both tasks in order to compensate for switch costs. In one condition, the tasks included univalent task stimuli, whereas in the other bivalent stimuli were used, increasing risk of crosstalk and task confusion in case of overlapping processing. The general distinction of voluntarily occurring preferences for serial or overlapping processing when performing task switching with preview could be confirmed. Tracking possible processing mode adjustments between low- and high-crosstalk conditions showed that individuals identified as serial processors in the low-crosstalk condition persisted in their processing mode. In contrast, overlapping processors split up in a majority adjusting to a serial processing mode and a minority persisting in overlapping processing, when working with bivalent stimuli. Thus, the voluntarily occurring preferences for serial or overlapping processing seem to depend at least partially on the risk of crosstalk between tasks. Strikingly, in both crosstalk conditions the individual performance efficiency was the higher, the more they processed in parallel.
Published in: Psychological Research, 10.1007/s00426-017-0924-0, Springer