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Title: A comparison of behavioural and functional neuroanatomical correlates of executive functions in multitasking and working memory
Author: Otermans, Pauldy Cornelia Johanna
ISNI:       0000 0004 7658 5690
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis aims to explore the role of executive functions in multitasking. Research has shown that severe performance decrements often arise in dual-task performance, also called multitasking, as compared to single task performance. This reflects a limitation in processing temporally overlapping information. Interference between tasks arises due to a bottleneck process limited to processing only one task at a time. It has been proposed that this interference is resolved by executive functions. However, the dual-task paradigm employed in this thesis, Psychological Refractory Period (PRP) paradigm, (Pashler, 1994) is typically investigated in the field of human action performance, and the exact concept of executive functions remains underspecified. However, while underspecified in the area of action performance, executive functions have been investigated in detail in the field of memory research, more specifically in the context of working memory (WM). Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to investigate whether the executive functions in PRP are related to the executive functions as discussed in the context of WM. To test this question, we combined the PRP paradigm with a WM task, creating a complex WM span task. If the executive functions of WM and PRP are indeed related, then an interaction between the two tasks should be evident. Participants were presented with a sequence of letters to remember, followed by a processing block in which they had to perform either a single task or a dual-task, and finally were asked to recall the letters. Results (Chapter 2) showed that recall performance decreased when performing a dual-task as compared to performing a single task. This supports the assumption that PRP dual-tasks demand executive functions of WM. Following this, two other experiments were performed each with a different parametric modulation of the processing demands of the PRP dual task; response order (fixed vs random; Chapter 3) and stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA, short vs long; Chapter 4) of the component tasks. Recall performance was lower after a more difficult dual-task compared to an easier dual-task, which again indicates that demands on executive functions are increased in the dual-task. While previous neuroscientific research indeed showed that dual-tasks as well as WM tasks rely on lateral-prefrontal cortices (LPFC), it remains unknown whether both tasks activate the same areas or different sub-areas of the LPFC. Therefore, this study (Chapter 6) investigated how the neuroanatomical correlates of both dual-task and WM compare to each other. The brain activation for the PRP and WM tasks showed considerable overlap as well as some differentiation. Both tasks activated, among other areas, the inferior frontal junction. With respect to differences, the PRP task activated more the inferior middle frontal gyrus (MFG) whilst the WM component activated more the superior MFG. Thus, results support the assumption that PRP dual-tasks demand the executive functions of WM. This will allow us to inform theoretical models of cognition and to get a better understanding of human cognition. Future studies can build on this in order to create a more consolidated conceptualisation of the relationship between WM and multitasking.
Supervisor: Szameitat, A. ; Parton, A. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Psychological Refractory Period (PRP) paradigm ; Behavioural experiments ; fMRI ; dual-task