More than a surprise: The bivalency effect in task switching

Metzak, Paul D.; Meier, Beat; Graf, Peter; Woodward, Todd S. (2013). More than a surprise: The bivalency effect in task switching. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25(7), pp. 833-842. Taylor & Francis 10.1080/20445911.2013.832196

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When switching tasks, if stimuli are presented that contain features that cue two of the tasks in the set (i.e., bivalent stimuli), performance slowing is observed on all tasks. This generalized slowing extends to tasks in the set which have no features in common with the bivalent stimulus and is referred to as the bivalency effect. In previous work, the bivalency effect was invoked by presenting occasionally occurring bivalent stimuli; therefore, the possibility that the generalized slowing is simply due to surprise (as opposed to bivalency) has not yet been discounted. This question was addressed in two task switching experiments where the occasionally occurring stimuli were either bivalent (bivalent version) or merely surprising (surprising version). The results confirmed that the generalized slowing was much greater in the bivalent version of both experiments, demonstrating that the magnitude of this effect is greater than can be accounted for by simple surprise. This set of results confirms that slowing task execution when encountering bivalent stimuli may be fundamental for efficient task switching, as adaptive tuning of response style may serve to prepare the cognitive system for possible future high conflict trials.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Psychological and Behavioral Health
10 Strategic Research Centers > Center for Cognition, Learning and Memory (CCLM)

UniBE Contributor:

Meier, Beat


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




Taylor & Francis




Anna Maria Ruprecht Künzli

Date Deposited:

23 Apr 2014 13:46

Last Modified:

29 Mar 2023 23:33

Publisher DOI:





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