Rich and Co.

Planning Trade-Offs

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Planning (i.e., preparedness) improves

  • action fluency and accuracy,
  • resistance to interference
  • the ability to overcome perseverative tendencies

At the same time, planning and holding plans in mind have been shown to consume limited processing resources, and thus interfere with other ongoing activity. Moreover, the fact that planning improves resistance to interference may actually prevent us from processing highly relevant information.

Working Memory (is made up of):
(1) novel bindings between familiar elements (“region of direct-access,” RA) which is a severely limited resource; and
(2) temporary heightened accessibility (activation) of familiar representations in long-term memory (LTM), termed “activated LTM” (ALTM), which is much less limited in its capacity

an additional drawback of planning, the seemingly paradoxical loss of flexible online action control when the action plan is still pending.

Since plans must be stored and represented in memory, it is critical to consider the likely memory system that is involved. Based on considerations that are detailed below, we distinguish between novel plans and practiced plans. Novel plans are plans that have never been executed beforehand, such as the plan to write this paper or the plan to execute a reaction time task for the first time. Practiced plans are plans that have been executed beforehand, such as the plan to execute a familiar reaction time task, reach the office, or prepare an omelet. We argue that the kind of processes involved in representing and storing novel and practiced plans are different from one another in important respects.

all suggesting that WM consists of an interaction between attentional systems subserved mostly by prefrontal cortex (PFC) regions and other brain regions involved in perception, semantic processing and action.

In this brief review, we have presented evidence that the intention to carry out a simple plan in the near future may result in paradoxical loss of control, such that the intended plan may be (at least partly) executed prematurely and inappropriately. We distinguished between two types of plans based on the WM compartment that is probably used for their storage. Planning to execute a familiar task may be entirely based on ALTM, thus preserving the scarce RA capacity resources. However, when the plan is novel, aspects of it are probably represented in RA. We further showed that different boundary conditions apply to the reflexivity of novel and practiced plans and suggested the likely neuro-cognitive mechanisms that are being involved. We thus conclude that plan reflexivity provides clues as to the mechanism underlying the mind’s tremendous flexibility during preparation. It seems that whatever mechanism gives us this gift of mental flexibility to allow for rapid novel planning also takes away flexibility as a new plan is prepared to be executed.

The hypotheses that we outlined in this paper lead to many future research directions that stem from currently unresolved questions, such as: is plan reflexivity a (perhaps unwanted) side-effect of planning or is it (also) associated with benefits? In this regard, Gollwitzer (1999) suggested that reflexive plans are more likely to get successfully executed, in part because of reduced dependence on endogenous control inputs. (This hypothesis is still hotly debated, e.g., see Brandstätter et al., 2001; Smith, 2003 vs. e.g., McDaniel and Scullin, 2010.) Additionally, despite the relatively clear evidence that novel and practiced tasks are subserved by different patterns of brain activity, it is unclear at present whether these differential patterns are related to plan reflexivity. Finally, while we suggested that plan reflexivity is a feature of proactive control, this is merely a speculation at this point and further research is needed to provide direct support for it.


Written by Rich and Co.

April 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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