The Nature of Task Set Representations in Working Memory


Selection and preparation of action plans (task sets) is often assumed to occur in working memory (WM). Yet, the absence of consistent evidence that WM capacity and task selection efficiency is correlated raises questions about the functional relationship between these two aspects of executive control. We used the EEG-derived contralateral delay activity (CDA) to index the WM load of task sets. In Experiment 1, we found a CDA set size effect (2 vs. 4 stimulus-response [S-R] rules) for high-WM, but not for low-WM, individuals when S-R sets were novel. In contrast, when only four task sets were presented throughout the experiment, we observed a sustained yet set size-independent use of WM for high-WM participants. Moreover, Experiment 2 showed an increase of the CDA in situations with task conflict, and this effect was larger the more that participants experienced RT conflict effects. Combined, these results indicate that even highly familiar S-R settings are maintained in WM, albeit in a compressed manner, presumably through cues to long-term memory representations. Finally, participants with low-WM capacity represented even familiar tasks in a load-dependent manner, suggesting that the establishment of effective retrieval structures itself is a capacity-limited process.

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Citations: Kikumoto, A., & Mayr, U. (2017). The Nature of Task Set Representations in Working Memory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(11), 1950–1961.