Hierarchical instantiation of attention
Embargo Lift Date: 2023-05-22
AdvisorFarooqui, Ausaf Ahmed
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Extended task executions involve goal-directed programs that control the execution of component steps. While the presence of such programs is widely accepted, their nature remains unclear. Prior studies saw them as controlling the identity and sequence of individual steps much like how a recipe controls and organizes cooking. However, this can happen only in predictable tasks where the identity and sequence of steps are known beforehand. Programs, on the other hand, are also evident in unpredictable tasks where the identity and sequence of steps are not foreknown. What is the role of these programs in such tasks? It has been suggested that, contrary to existing view, these programs may not be about specifying the identity and sequence of component steps. Perhaps they are the means of instantiating all kinds of goal-related control processes during extended tasks. We tested this thesis in relation to attention. If attention during extended tasks is instantiated via these programs, then attentional focus may be poorer on the initial steps of such tasks, especially if these steps are fast-paced. This is because when a new task starts a new program is needed. If attention can only be instantiated via these programs, then the initial steps cannot be attended unless the new program is in place. However, in fast-paced tasks the initial steps may be at hand before these programs have been assembled. Consequently, these steps may suffer from a lack of attention. We show that attention-dependent inhibitory control is indeed poorer on the initial steps of extended tasks, suggesting that attention may indeed be instantiated via these programs.