Stability-Flexibility Dilemma in Cognitive Control: A Dynamical System Perspective

AbstractConstraints on control-dependent processing have become a fundamental concept in general theories of cognition that explain human behavior in terms of rational adaptations to these constraints. However, theories miss a rationale for why such constraints would exist in the first place. Recent work suggests that constraints on the allocation of control facilitate flexible task switching at the expense of the stability needed to support goal-directed behavior in face of distraction. Here, we formulate this problem in a dynamical system, in which control signals are represented as attractors and in which constraints on control allocation limit the depth of these attractors. We derive formal expressions of the stability-flexibility tradeoff, showing that constraints on control allocation improve cognitive flexibility but impair cognitive stability. Finally, we provide evidence that human participants adapt higher constraints on the allocation of control as the demand for flexibility increases but that participants deviate from optimal constraints.


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