Anglia Ruskin University
PhD Thesis_Final_Ellen Carroll_2014.pdf (2.3 MB)
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The cognitive basis of goal-directed behaviour

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posted on 2023-08-30, 14:07 authored by Ellen L. Carroll
An unresolved issue exists in the study of mental ability: which aspect of cognition is responsible for the emergence of psychometric “g” (Spearman, 1904, 1927), a general factor that predicts performance in all kinds of cognitive tasks and many important life outcomes? On the basis of themes present in the literature on fluid intelligence (Chapter 1), this thesis explores the relative contributions of processing, storage, and task modelling demands to the recruitment of g in task performance. Six experiments are presented which employed two computer-based tasks. The tasks were designed such that the level of demand for processing and storage was separated and manipulated in order to establish their relationship to scores on a standard test of g. Task manipulations were implemented in the context of varying the number of distinct verbal chunks in which task instructions were presented, whilst controlling for the presented amount of operative task-relevant information. The findings showed that the recruitment of g in task performance was strengthened by the presence (versus the absence) of a requirement to inhibit a prepotent response tendency (Experiments 1, 2, and 3), and by the presence of requirements to inhibit a prepared response and to maintain and update information in working memory (Experiments 4 and 5). However, these effects were observed only when task instructions were presented as four (and not as two) distinct rules. Additional findings showed that reconceptualisation of task requirements—that is, flexibly imposing order on a complex set of instructions thus reducing the number of distinct verbal chunks—was dependent on performance on the test of Spearman’s g (Experiments 3 through 6). These findings are deemed consistent with a task conceptualisation theory of g, with real-time execution demand, particularly inhibition, posing as a risk factor for the recruitment of g only when task requirements are maintained in mind as a relatively large number of chunks or rules.



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