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The Effects of Task Complexity and Practice on Dual-Task Interference in Visuospatial Working Memory

  • Stephen J. Murray (a1), Ken McFarland (a2) and Gina Geffen (a3)

Abstract

Although the n-back task has been widely applied to neuroimagery investigations of working memory (WM), the role of practice effects on behavioural performance of this task has not yet been investigated. The current study aimed to investigate the effects of task complexity and familiarity on the n-back task. Seventy-seven participants (39 male, 38 female) completed a visuospatial n-back task four times, twice in two testing sessions separated by a week. Participants were required to remember either the first, second or third (n-back) most recent letter positions in a continuous sequence and to indicate whether the current item matched or did not match the remembered position. A control task, with no working memory requirements required participants to match to a predetermined stimulus position. In both testing sessions, reaction time (RT) and error rate increased with increasing WM load. An exponential slope for RTs in the first session indicated dual-task interference at the 3-back level. However, a linear slope in the second session indicated a reduction of dual-task interference. Attenuation of interference in the second session suggested a reduction in executive demands of the task with practice. This suggested that practice effects occur within the n-back task and need to be controlled for in future neuroimagery research using the task.

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Gina Geffen, PhD, FASSA Professor Neuropsychology, Director Cognitive Psychophysiology Laboratory, Edith Cavell Building, The Medical School, Herston Road, Herston, Queensland 4029, Australia. E-mail: geffen@psy.uq.edu.au

The Effects of Task Complexity and Practice on Dual-Task Interference in Visuospatial Working Memory

  • Stephen J. Murray (a1), Ken McFarland (a2) and Gina Geffen (a3)

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