Continuous sensory processing is frequently necessary for successful goal-directed activity, as is keeping task-related information in working memory (WM). Though there was evidence that WM and perception interact, more was needed to understand how the connections were managed. For a study, researchers explored the idea that, like traditional conflict-adaptation tasks, WM perception interactions engage proactive and reactive modes of control (e.g., Stroop, flanker, and Simon).

Participants completed visual discrimination of orientation test that occurred during the delay period, a delayed recall of orientation WM task, and a task where the congruity of orientation across the tasks was altered. The task performance’s sensitivity to the preceding trial’s congruity revealed proactive control (i.e., a Gratton effect). A repulsive serial dependence caused by incongruent discriminanda exhibited reactive control.

A reinforcement learning-based model that tracks trial-to-trial variations in control demand was used to quantify these effects. Reactive control was explained by a phasic control prediction error (control PE), and proactive control was explained by a tonic level of predicted conflict that was updated each trial by the control PE.

As a result, it was possible that the processes regulating the conflict in other cognitive domains, such as response choice, also regulated WM-perception interactions.