The Bivalency effect in task switching: Event-related potentials
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During task switching, if we occasionally encounter stimuli that cue more than one task (i.e., bivalent stimuli), response slowing is observed on all univalent trials within that block, even when no features overlap with the bivalent stimuli. This observation is known as the bivalency effect. Previous fMRI work (Woodward et al., 2008) clearly suggests a role for the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) in the bivalency effect, but the time course remains uncertain. Here, we present the first high-temporal resolution account for the bivalency effect using stimulus-locked event-related potentials. Participants alternated among three simple tasks in six experimental blocks, with bivalent stimuli appearing occasionally in bivalent blocks (blocks 2, 4, and 6). The increased reaction times for univalent stimuli in bivalent blocks demonstrate that these stimuli are being processed differently from univalent stimuli in purely univalent blocks. Frontal electrode sites captured significant amplitude differences associated with the bivalency effect within time windows 100-120 ms, 375-450 ms, and 500-550 ms, which may reflect additional extraction of visual features present in bivalent stimuli (100-120 ms) and suppression of processing carried over from irrelevant cues (375-450 ms and 500-550 ms). Our results support the fMRI findings and provide additional evidence for involvement of the dACC. Furthermore, the bivalency effect dissipated with extended practice both behaviorally and electrophysiologically. These findings are discussed in relation to the differential processing involved in a controlled response style.