Crossmodal selection in attention and action: Age-related changes in cognitive preparation of crossmodal processing and their neural underpinnings, funded by the DFG

  • Funding agency: German Research Foundation (DFG) and MOST (Taiwan) - binational request for proposals
  • Applicant: Dr. Denise N. Stephan, Institute of Psychology
  • Co-applicant: Prof. Dr. Iring Koch, Institute of Psychology, and Shulan Hsieh and Pi-Chun Huang, Department of Psychology, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan
  • Responsible staff member: Ludivine Schils, M.A.
  • Duration: 36 months, 2021-2024


In our environment, we constantly need to distinguish between important and to-be-ignored information and to select one of many possible responses. Many times, we even have to perform two or more tasks in close temporal succession (i.e., multitasking), increasing the difficulties for stimulus and/or response selection. Overcoming interference in attention and response selection requires cognitive control. Moreover, human multitasking is most often a multimodal combination of stimuli and responses in different modalities and thus more complex than often portrayed by experimental research (see e.g., Koch, Poljac, Müller, & Kiesel, 2018, for a review).

However, the influence of crossmodal stimulation, crossmodal responses and their mapping has rather been neglected in the broad context of cognitive control. A further factor that has mainly been neglected so far is that complex situations in a crossmodal context are especially demanding with higher age. Thus, it is important to examine the mechanisms underlying age-related difficulties in crossmodal processing.

In the present project, we focus on one potential factor that may influence crossmodal processing, namely cognitive preparation. It has been shown that performance in multitasking can improve under certain conditions such as prolonged preparation time or precuing of a demanded response (see, e.g., Kiesel et al., 2010, for a review). Although a general benefit of preparation can be observed, the evidence is mixed for older adults. Whereas some studies demonstrated an age-equivalent beneficial influence of cognitive preparation for older adults, other studies indicated that older adults struggle with advanced preparation in complex task processing requirements such as multitasking. Furthermore, previous research on cognitive preparation also mostly disregarded modality-specific influences, which might additionally contribute to age-related differences.

Taken together, the current state of the art strongly implies the need for further research. The aim of our research is to integrate our previous research to achieve a better understanding of whether and how age influences the ability of advanced preparation in crossmodal situations. In order to understand the underlying processes comprehensively, we intend to examine different stages of cognitive processing (i.e., stimulus selection, stimulus-response mapping selection, and response selection). To this end, we aim to investigate age-related influences on preparatory effects in a crossmodal context in behavior on three different, yet connected levels of cognitive processing by implementing three different crossmodal paradigms and related workpackages (WP)

  1. Crossmodal stimulus selection: We examine crossmodal attention switching to explore potential age-related differences in modality-specific congruency effects (Kreutzfeldt, Stephan & Koch, 2010)
  2. Crossmodal mapping selection: We examine age-related effects in crossmodal task-mapping switching to explore whether older adults have more problems in selecting and preparing modality mappings in mixed-task situations (Stephan & Koch, 2010).
  3. Crossmodal response selection: We use response precuing to examine whether older adults develop impairments in response preparation when using different effectors (Adam & Koch, 2014).

Please note that little is known regarding the underlying possible neural processes of cognitive and whether and how age-related changes in neural systems may adapt in order to perform the same crossmodal mental operations as in young adults. We aim to act on this by establishing a new cooperation between Germany (Aachen) and Taiwan (Tainan) to combine our competences in the study of crossmodal processing (Aachen) and the corresponding underlying neural processes (Tainan). However, since all neurological studies will be conducted in Tainan, an independent ethics approval has been submitted in Taiwan and these studies are not part of this application for ethical approval.

Selected references

Adam, J. J., & Koch, I. (2014). Response repetition effects depend on motor set: Evidence for anatomical coding in response selection. Human Movement Science, 33, 172-184.

Kiesel, A., Steinhauser, M., Wendt, M., Falkenstein, M., Jost, K., Philipp, A. M., & Koch, I. (2010). Control and interference in task switching—A review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 849-874.

Koch, I., Poljac, E., Müller, H., & Kiesel, A. (2018). Cognitive structure, flexibility, and plasticity in human multitasking – An integrative review of dual-task and task-switching research. Psychological Bulletin, 144, 557-583.

Kreutzfeldt, M., Stephan, D. N., Willmes, K., & Koch, I. (2016). Shifts in target modality cause attentional reset: Evidence from sequential modulation of crossmodal congruency effects. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23, 1466-1473.

Stephan, D. N., & Koch, I. (2010). Central crosstalk in task switching: Evidence from manipulating input-output modality compatibility. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 36, 1075-1081.