Individual differences in working memory capacity and the distinction between proactive and reactive control

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Redick, Thomas Scott
Engle, Randall W.
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The construct of cognitive control is often invoked to provide a mechanism responsible for information-processing in ill-defined situations. However, the dual-mechanism theory of cognitive control distinguishes between proactive and reactive varieties, and provides a more concrete framework for explaining behavior across various conditions. Importantly, although proactive and reactive control have been theorized to apply to differential performance observed in various clinical and aging populations, no empirical work has been conducted examining how this theory may apply to individual differences in working memory capacity within a young, healthy population. The current research directly assessed proactive versus reactive control by administering three versions of the AX version of the continuous performance test to individuals varying in working memory capacity. Across the task versions, specific trial type frequencies were manipulated to examine whether this variable interacted with WMC to cause individuals to engage in one control type over the other. In addition, the current work investigated whether individuals can change their mode of control on a trial-to-trial basis, something that had not previously been examined. Individuals low in working memory capacity exhibited specific performance deficits relative to the individuals high in working memory capacity. The results extend the application of the dual-mechanism theory to individual differences in working memory capacity and provide a theoretical framework to explain previous findings in the working memory capacity literature.
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