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Timo MäntyläProfessor Emeritus

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Development of multitasking abilities in middle childhood

    2022. Andrea Frick (et al.). Learning and instruction 77


    The development of multitasking abilities was investigated in relation to working memory capacity, sustained attention, inhibition, and task switching. Using a new touch-screen task, 90 children aged 7-10 years were asked to monitor several timers running at different paces, and to press a button whenever a timer had completed its cycle. Results showed that a significant part of the variance in children's multitasking performance was explained by age, and performance increased significantly until about 8-9 years. Multitasking performance was generally affected by the number of tasks, but even more so in younger children. Sustained attention explained a significant part of the variance in triple-, but not dual-task performance; visuospatial working memory capacity explained variance in dual- and triple-task performance, even after controlling for age. In conclusion, multitasking develops considerably in middle childhood and may involve different processes than dualtasking.

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  • Intention Framing in Time-Based Prospective Memory

    2021. Fabio Del Missier (et al.). Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory and Cognition 47 (8), 1226-1245


    Research on prospective memory has paid no attention to the way in which the intentions to be remembered are framed. In two studies on time-based prospective memory, participants had to remember multiple delayed intentions framed as time rules (i.e., respond every 7 min, every 10 min) or as a series of corresponding instances (i.e., respond at Times 7, 10, 14, 20, 21, 28, 30, etc.). We appraised the effects of intention framing on intention learning, intention representation, strategies used to set the upcoming intention, cognitive load (monitoring cost), and prospective memory performance. Study 1 involved three time rules and corresponding instances. The results showed that time rules are learned faster than corresponding instances and that intention frames shaped the way intentions were mentally represented. Furthermore, the rule frame was associated with a more cognitively demanding incremental planning strategy to establish the upcoming intention, whereas the instance frame promoted the serial recall of intentions. Study 2 replicated the results on representations and strategies with four time rules and corresponding sets of instances, and it showed better prospective memory performance following the instance frame than rule frame. Together, these studies show that two alternative ways of framing multiple delayed intentions in the same prospective memory task induce significant differences in the way intentions are represented, in the cognitive strategies used to set the upcoming intention, and in performance. Theoretical and applied implications of the results for the prospective memory field are discussed.

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  • Decision-making competence in older adults

    2020. Fabio Del Missier (et al.). Psychology and Aging 35 (4), 553-564


    Cross-sectional studies have suggested age-related differences in decision-making competence, but these differences may also reflect cohort-related effects. We present a longitudinal study of age-related changes over 5 years in older adults (aged 60–85) for 3 important aspects of decision-making competence: resistance to framing, applying decision rules, and resistance to sunk costs. The findings show small age-related longitudinal declines in resistance to framing but no decline in applying decision rules or resistance to sunk costs. The results also indicate that individuals’ decision-making competence after 5 years is significantly related to their initial decision-making competence assessment and that the contribution of crystallized abilities to decision making in older adults is greater than previously thought.

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  • Spatial ability contributes to memory for delayed intentions

    2020. Veit Kubik, Fabio Del Missier, Timo Mäntylä. Cognitive research principles and implications 5 (1)


    Most everyday activities involve delayed intentions referring to different event structures and timelines. Yet, past research has mostly considered prospective memory (PM) as a dual-task phenomenon in which the primary task to fulfill PM intentions is realized within an ongoing secondary task. We hypothesized that these simplified simulations of PM may have obscured the role of spatial relational processing that is functional to represent and meet the increased temporal demands in more complex PM scenarios involving multiple timelines. To test this spatiotemporal hypothesis, participants monitored four digital clocks, with PM deadlines referring either to the same clock (single-context condition) or different clocks (multiple-context condition), along with separate tests of spatial ability (mental rotation task) and executive functioning (working memory updating). We found that performance in the mental rotation task incrementally explained PM performance in the multiple-context, but not in the single-context, condition, even after controlling for individual differences in working memory updating and ongoing task performance. These findings suggest that delayed intentions occurring in multiple ongoing task contexts reflect independent contributions of working memory updating and mental rotation and that spatial relational processing may specifically be involved in higher cognitive functions, such as complex PM in multiple contexts or multitasking.

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  • Monitoring Multiple Deadlines Relies on Spatial Processing in Posterior Parietal Cortex

    2019. Marius Zimmermann (et al.). Journal of cognitive neuroscience 31 (10), 1468-1483


    Proactively coordinating one's actions is an important aspect of multitasking performance due to overlapping task sequences. In this study, we used fMRI to investigate neural mechanisms underlying monitoring of multiple overlapping task sequences. We tested the hypothesis that temporal control demands in multiple-task monitoring are offloaded onto spatial processes by representing patterns of temporal deadlines in spatial terms. Results showed that increased demands on time monitoring (i.e., responding to concurrent deadlines of one to four component tasks) increasingly activated regions in the left inferior parietal lobe and the precuneus. Moreover, independent measures of spatial abilities correlated with multiple-task performance beyond the contribution of working memory. Together, these findings suggest that monitoring and coordination of temporally overlapping task timelines rely on cortical processes involved in spatial information processing. We suggest that the precuneus is involved in tracking of multiple task timelines, whereas the inferior parietal lobe constructs spatial representations of the temporal relations of these overlapping timelines. These findings are consistent with the spatial offloading hypothesis and add new insights into the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the coordination of multiple tasks.

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  • The Fatalistic Decision Maker

    2019. Michael Rönnlund (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 10


    Prior research indicates that time perspective (TP; views of past, present, and future) is related to decision-making style. By contrast, no prior study considered relations between TP and decision-making competence. We therefore investigated associations between dimensions of the Swedish Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (S-ZTPI) and performance on the Adult Decision-Making Competence (A-DMC) battery in a sample of older adults (60-90 years, N = 346). A structural equation model involving four A-DMC components as indicators of a general DMC factor and the six TP dimensions as the predictors revealed a significant negative association between the Present Fatalistic dimension and DMC. Given that age-related differences were apparent in DMC and that Present Fatalistic orientation increased with age, we tested a model by which the age-related differences in DMC were mediated by age-related differences in Present Fatalistic attitudes and in working memory. The results were consistent with full mediation of the age effects, with Present Fatalistic and working memory jointly accounting for a substantial amount of the variance in DMC (51%). The finding that DMC among older adults, in particular more cognitively demanding aspects such as applying decision rules, can be undermined by increased present fatalistic attitudes and declines in working memory is discussed in terms of theoretical frameworks highlighting the contribution of both motivational and cognitive factors to effective decision making.

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  • Blocked vs. interleaved presentation and proactive interference in episodic memory

    2018. Fabio Del Missier (et al.). Memory 26 (5), 697-711


    Although a number of theoretical accounts of proactive interference (PI) in episodic memory have been proposed, existing empirical evidence does not support conclusively a single view yet. In two experiments we tested the predictions of the temporal discrimination theory of PI against alternative accounts by manipulating the presentation schedule of study materials (lists blocked by category vs. interleaved). In line with the temporal discrimination theory, we observed a clear buildup of (and release from) PI in the blocked condition, in which all the lists of the same category were presented sequentially. In the interleaved condition, with alternating lists of different categories, a more gradual and smoother buildup of PI was observed. When participants were left free to choose their presentation schedule, they spontaneously adopted an interleaved schedule, resulting again in more gradual PI. After longer delays, we observed recency effects at the list level in overall recall and, in the blocked condition, PI-related effects. The overall pattern of findings agrees with the predictions of the temporal discrimination theory of PI, complemented with categorical processing of list items, but not with alternative accounts, shedding light on the dynamics and underpinnings of PI under diverse presentation schedules and over different time scales.

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  • Spatial offloading in multiple task monitoring

    2018. Ivo Todorov (et al.). Journal of Cognitive Psychology 30 (2), 230-241


    Coordinating multiple tasks requires a high degree of cognitive control, and individuals with limited executive functions often show difficulties in everyday multitasking. We tested the hypothesis that demands on executive control can be alleviated by internally representing the temporal pattern of goals and deadlines as spatial relations. In two experiments, participants completed a multitasking session by monitoring deadlines of four clocks running at different rates, along with separate tasks of executive functioning and spatial ability. In Experiment 1, individual and gender-related differences in spatial ability (mental rotation) predicted multitasking performance, beyond the contributions of both the updating and inhibition components of executive functioning, and even when spatial cues were eliminated from the layout of the monitoring task. Experiment 2 extended these findings by showing that concurrent spatial load impaired task monitoring accuracy, and that these detrimental effects were accentuated when spatial abilities were compromized due to fluctuation in female sex hormones. These findings suggest that multiple task monitoring involves working memory-related functions, but that these cognitive control demands can be offloaded by relying on spatial relation processes.

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  • Neural mechanisms underlying multiple task coordination

    2018. Marius Zimmermann (et al.).


    A large body of research referred to as “multitasking” is based on dual-task paradigms, focusing on cognitive bottlenecks and crosstalk between perceptual encoding and response selection processes. However, everyday multitasking is different from the microstructure of rapid switching between laboratory tasks, and cognitive bottlenecks may be avoided by scheduling and interleaving deadlines and other task constraints in order to achieve multiple goals. 

    We suggest that executive control demands of coordinating multiple ongoing activities can be alleviated by representing patterns of temporal deadlines in spatial relations. This spatial offloading hypothesis is consistent with observations showing that temporal relations are often represented in spatial terms. Our own behavioural studies show that spatial ability (mental rotation) predicts multitasking, but not dual-task, performance beyond individual differences in executive functions. 

    Here, we test central predictions of the spatial offloading hypothesis using functional neuroimaging. We expect that cortical areas associated with spatial processing are selectively activated during multitasking. Moreover, these effects should reflect temporal task complexity, with accentuated patterns of activation in multiple tasks, but not in single- and dual-task performance, in which demands on cognitive control and temporal coordination are reduced. 

    Twenty-four healthy, young adults completed a time-based monitoring task with varying number of component tasks (single, dual and multiple series of letters, running at different rates), while neural activity was measured using fMRI.

    Results show increased activation with increasing number of component tasks in posterior parietal brain regions related to spatial processing. These findings suggest that multitasking involves spatial abilities and their underlying neural correlates.

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  • Unraveling the Aging Skein

    2017. Fabio Del Missier (et al.). Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 30 (1), 123-139


    Age-related differences in sensory functioning, processing speed, and working memory have been identified as three significant predictors of the age-related performance decline observed in complex cognitive tasks. Yet, the assessment of their relative predictive capacity and interrelations is still an open issue in decision making and cognitive aging research. Indeed, no previous investigation has examined the relationships of all these three predictors with decision making. In an individual-differences study, we therefore disentangled the relative contribution of sensory functioning, processing speed, and working memory to the prediction of the age-related decline in cognitively demanding judgment and decision-making tasks. Structural equation modeling showed that the age-related decline in working memory plays an important predictive role, even when controlling for sensory functioning, processing speed, and education. Implications for research on decision making and cognitive aging are discussed.

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  • Assessing Boundary Conditions of the Testing Effect

    2017. Max Larsson Sundqvist, Timo Mäntylä, Fredrik U. Jönsson. Frontiers in Psychology 8


    Repeated testing during learning often improves later memory, which is often referred to as the testing effect. To clarify its boundary conditions, we examined whether the testing effect was selectively affected by covert (retrieved but not articulated) or overt (retrieved and articulated) response format. In Experiments 1 and 2, we compared immediate (5 min) and delayed (1 week) cued recall for paired associates following study-only, covert, and overt conditions, including two types of overt articulation (typing and writing). A clear testing effect was observed in both experiments, but with no selective effects of response format. In Experiments 3 and 4, we compared covert and overt retrieval under blocked and random list orders. The effect sizes were small in both experiments, but there was a significant effect of response format, with overt retrieval showing better final recall performance than covert retrieval. There were no significant effects of blocked versus random list orders with respect to the testing effect produced. Taken together, these findings suggest that, under specific circumstances, overt retrieval may lead to a greater testing effect than that of covert retrieval, but because of small effect sizes, it appears that the testing effect is mainly the result of retrieval processes and that articulation has fairly little to add to its magnitude in a paired-associates learning paradigm.

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  • Choice-Supportive Misremembering

    2017. Martina Lind (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 8


    Although the literature on the influence of memory on decisions is well developed, research on the effects of decision making on memory is rather sparse and scattered. Choice-supportive misremembering (i.e., misremembering choice-related information that boosts the chosen option and/or demotes the foregone options) has been observed in several studies and has the potential to affect future choices. Nonetheless, no attempt has been made to review the relevant literature, categorize the different types of choice-supportive misremembering observed, and critically appraise the existing evidence and proposed explanations. Thus, starting from a new theoretically motivated and empirically grounded taxonomy, we review the current research. Our taxonomy classifies choice-supportive misremembering into four conceptually distinct types: misattribution is when information is attributed to the wrong source, fact distortion when the facts are remembered in a distorted manner, false memory when items that were not part of the original decision scenarios are remembered as presented and, finally, selective forgetting is when information is selectively forgotten. After assessing the impact of various potentially moderating factors, we evaluate the evidence for each type of misremembering and conclude that the support for the phenomenon is solid in relation to misattribution when recognition memory is assessed, but significantly weaker for the other three types, and when other memory tests are used to assess memory. Finally, we review the cognitive and emotional explanations proposed for choice-supportive misremembering in the light of the available evidence and identify the main gaps in the current knowledge and the more promising avenues for future research.

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  • Time takes space

    2017. Timo Mäntylä (et al.). Cognitive Processing 18 (3), 229-235


    Many everyday activities require coordination and monitoring of complex relations of future goals and deadlines. Cognitive offloading may provide an efficient strategy for reducing control demands by representing future goals and deadlines as a pattern of spatial relations. We tested the hypothesis that multiple-task monitoring involves time-to-space transformational processes, and that these spatial effects are selective with greater demands on coordinate (metric) than categorical (nonmetric) spatial relation processing. Participants completed a multitasking session in which they monitored four series of deadlines, running on different time scales, while making concurrent coordinate or categorical spatial judgments. We expected and found that multitasking taxes concurrent coordinate, but not categorical, spatial processing. Furthermore, males showed a better multitasking performance than females. These findings provide novel experimental evidence for the hypothesis that efficient multitasking involves metric relational processing.

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Show all publications by Timo Mäntylä at Stockholm University