Investigating task preparation and task performance as triggers of the backward inhibition effect

Laura Prosser, Motonori Yamaguchi, Rachel Swainson* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Backward inhibition is posited to aid task switching by counteracting the tendency to repeat a recent task. Evidence that factors such as cue transparency affect backward inhibition seems to imply that it is generated during task preparation, making its absence following trials on which a prepared task was not performed (nogo trials) surprising. However, the nogo method used in previous studies might have prevented detection of preparation-driven effects. We used a truncated-trial method instead, omitting stages of a trial with no need for a nogo signal. In Experiment 1, an n – 2 repetition cost (suggested to indicate backward inhibition) followed trials truncated after response selection, indicating that response execution is not necessary to trigger backward inhibition. In Experiments 2 and 3, no n – 2 repetition cost was obtained following trials truncated after cue presentation. To ensure some task preparation on cue-only trials, Experiment 4 used a double-registration procedure where participants responded to the task cue and the target on each trial. In contrast to Experiments 2 and 3, a small n – 2 repetition cost followed trials truncated after cue responses, affecting cue responses on the current trial. In addition, the n – 2 repetition cost was increased at cue responses and became evident at target responses when the preceding trial also involved a target response. These results imply that backward inhibition might be generated by processes occurring up to and including a cue response, affecting subsequent cue responses, as well as during task performance itself, affecting subsequent cue and target responses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1816-1835
Number of pages20
JournalPsychological Research
Early online date26 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank Carrie Mackintosh, Nerhys Walters, Mihret Gay, and Celine Borrow for assistance with data collection. Experiments 3 and 4 were supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/R005613/1]. For the purpose of open access, the authors have applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising.

Data Availability Statement

Data availability
The data for Experiment 1 can be requested by emailing the corresponding author:
The data for Experiment 2 and the experiment described in Online Resource 1 can be accessed at The data for Experiments 3 and 4 can be accessed at The preregistration for Experiment 3 can be found at and the preregistration for Experiment 4 at

Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at


  • backward inhibition
  • task switching
  • cognitive control
  • cue-only trials


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