The impact of working memory load on task execution and online plan adjustment during multitasking in a virtual environment

Law, Anna S. and Trawley, Steven L. and Brown, Louise A. and Stephens, Amanda N. and Logie, Robert H. (2013) The impact of working memory load on task execution and online plan adjustment during multitasking in a virtual environment. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66 (6). pp. 1241-1258. ISSN 1747-0218

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Abstract

Three experiments investigated the impact of working memory load on online plan adjustment during a test of multitasking in young, nonexpert, adult participants. Multitasking was assessed using the Edinburgh Virtual Errands Test (EVET). Participants were asked to memorize either good or poor plans for performing multiple errands and were assessed both on task completion and on the extent to which they modified their plans during EVET performance. EVET was performed twice, with and without a secondary task loading a component of working memory. In Experiment 1, articulatory suppression was used to load the phonological loop. In Experiment 2, oral random generation was used to load executive functions. In Experiment 3, spatial working memory was loaded with an auditory spatial localization task. EVET performance for both good- and poor-planning groups was disrupted by random generation and sound localization, but not by articulatory suppression. Additionally, people given a poor plan were able to overcome this initial disadvantage by modifying their plans online. It was concluded that, in addition to executive functions, multiple errands performance draws heavily on spatial, but not verbal, working memory resources but can be successfully completed on the basis of modifying plans online, despite a secondary task load.