Potential PhD Projects

I am interested in how we use different rules to guide our behaviour according to the situation we are in.  This appears to be something that we do frequently, if not constantly, in everyday life:  for instance, we use words and body language when speaking to a friend which might be inappropriate when speaking to a stranger; we throw a ball when playing netball but kick it in football; and we fill a kettle when preparing to make coffee but pour from it when the water has boiled.  As well as using the appropriate rule for the current circumstances, we also have to switch rapidly between rules when circumstances change.  My research aims to understand the cognitive mechanisms involved with adopting and switching between such rules.  In the lab, we use well-controlled “tasks” like making judgements about the colour versus the shape of an image.  A postgraduate research project might focus on one of the following topics.

 

What is the impact of discarding a prepared task upon future performance?

Although it had been thought that only performing a task would lead to problems switching to another task on the next trial, more recent research suggests that even only preparing to do a particular task can lead to just as large performance costs when switching to an alternative task.  But do preparation and performance really have the same effects on subsequent performance?  

 

What cancels the persisting effects of tasks upon future performance?

If a prepared task which is not performed can lead to substantial costs for switching tasks on the next trial, why does it sometimes lead to no costs whatsoever?  What it is that can apparently cancel a prepared task so that it does not affect future performance?

 

When do we perform as if switching between different tasks, and why?

In some circumstances we exhibit switch costs even though there is ostensibly no need to control behaviour via separate rules.  In other situations, no cost from switching tasks might be seen even though it would appear that using separate rules would be very helpful in ensuring that our responses are appropriate.  What factors drive these different patterns of performance?