Role of Outcome Conflict in Dual-Task Interference

David Navon, Jeff Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The traditional explanation for dual-task interference is that tasks compete for scarce processing resources. Another possible explanation is that the outcome of the processing required for one task conflicts with the processing required for the other task (e.g., cross talk). To explore the contribution of outcome conflict to task interference, we manipulated the relatedness of the tasks. In Experiment 1, subjects searched concurrently for names of boys in one channel and names of cities in another channel. Responses were significantly delayed when a nontarget on one channel belonged to, or was even just related to, the category designated as the target for the other channel. No comparable effects were found when the tasks were performed in isolation. Thus, the difficulty of the individual tasks is not the only determinant of how much they will interfere when combined, and there must be substantial interactions between processes carrying out the two tasks. In Experiment 2 subjects searched one channel for specific target letters and another channel for specific target digits. The nontargets in a channel were either from the same alphanumeric category as the targets for that channel or from the opposite category (i.e., the category of the targets for the other channel). It was found that although between-category search was more efficient than within-category search in single tasks, it was less efficient in dual tasks. Thus, there appear to be significant task interactions due to the confusability emerging when the nontargets of one task belong to the same category as the targets of the concurrent task. In addition, the congruence of target presence or absence on the two channels was found to have a sizeable effect. We suggest four potential sources of outcome conflict that may contribute to dual-task interference, and we conjecture that a great deal of the residual interference might result from other sorts of outcome conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-448
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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