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Switching between tasks and responses: a developmental study


Address for correspondence: Eveline A. Crone, Leiden University, Department of Psychology, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands; e-mail:


Task switching requires the ability to flexibly switch between task rules and responses, and is sensitive to developmental change. We tested the hypothesis that developmental changes in task switch performance are associated with changes in the facilitating or interfering effect of the previously retrieved stimulus–response (S–R) association. Three age groups (7–8-year-olds, 10–12-year-olds and 20–25-year-olds) performed a two-choice reaction time (RT) task in which spatially compatible or incompatible responses were required. The RT costs associated with switching between tasks were larger when responses were repeated than when responses were alternated. Younger children showed a greater cost than adults when switching between tasks but repeating responses. This age difference decreased when the interval between the previous response and the upcoming stimulus increased. Switch costs were larger when switching to the compatible task than to the incompatible task, but this effect did not differ between age groups. These findings suggest that young children build up stronger transient associations between task sets and response sets, which interfere with their ability to switch to currently intended actions. A similar pattern has previously been observed for older adults (Mayr, 2001), suggesting a common contributor to task switching deficits across the life span.