Attentional control, cognitive control, or executive functions are different labels that broadly refer to our ability to supervise and control thoughts and actions in order to achieve our current goals. This control ability is among the core abilities because it allows us to adapt to environmental changes in a fast and flexible way. For example, when we drive home quickly but safely, we are able to slow down when approaching a red traffic light. However, if we see a police officer at the junction, we are able to ignore the traffic light in order to follow the officer’s instructions. The key process behind such adaptability – thereafter called attentional control – includes maintaining goal-relevant information when facing distraction. Investigating the question of how attentional control is implemented is, therefore, an important prerequisite towards understanding human behavior.

Typically, attentional control is put forward as a valid and general construct, leading to success in different tasks and situations. However, recent research has questioned this assumption by emphasizing the difficulty of measuring attentional control in a reliable and valid way. The aim of the present research project is thus to determine whether reliable and valid measures of attentional control can be developed. To this end, three main research questions are planned to be investigated:

  1. To what extent do similar tasks measure the same control process?
  2. What is the contribution of other cognitive processes (e.g., memory) and intra-individual variability to the measurement of attentional control?
  3. What is the criterion validity of tasks measuring attentional control?

Investigating the reliability and validity of attentional control is important because without reliable and valid measures of attentional control, conclusions drawn from cognitive, neuroscientific, and individual-differences research about attentional control cannot be generalized. In a broader sense, the absence of reliable and valid measures of attentional control also limits the implications made in research using attentional control as a general construct explaining individual or group differences, such as in clinical, developmental, and aging research. Together, this emphasizes the necessity of establishing reliable and valid measures of attentional control in order to derive solid conclusions regarding how efficient an individual or a group of individuals can exert attentional control.

Related work

Rey-Mermet, A., Gade, M., & Oberauer, K. (2018). Should we stop thinking about inhibition? Searching for individual and age differences in inhibition ability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 44(4), 501–526., see here for an open access to the manuscript.

Rey-Mermet, A., Gade, M., Souza, A. S., von Bastian, C. C., & Oberauer, K. (2019). Is executive control related to working memory capacity and fluid intelligence? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(8), 1335–1372., see here for an open access to the manuscript.

Rey-Mermet, A., Singh, K. A., Gignac, G. E., Brydges, C. R., & Ecker, U. K. H. (2020). Interference control in working memory: Evidence for discriminant validity between removal and inhibition tasks. PLOS ONE, 15(12), e0243053.

Rey-Mermet, A., Singmann, H., & Oberauer, K. (2021). Neither measurement error nor speed-accuracy trade-offs explain the difficulty of establishing attentional control as a psychometric construct: Evidence from a latent-variable analysis using diffusion modeling. PsyArXiv.

Project duration

01.11.2022 - 31.10.2026


Dr Alodie Rey-Mermet
Dr Alodie Rey-Mermet Principal investigator PI
Henrik Singmann
Henrik Singmann Project partner, UCL
M Sc Niels Oliver Kempkens
M Sc Niels Oliver Kempkens PhD Candidate
MSc Mirjam Wagner
MSc Mirjam Wagner Assistant


Research project funded by the Swiss National Foundation “The current challenge in attentional-control research: Establishing reliable and valid measures”

Principal investigator: Alodie Rey-Mermet

CHF 646'486 (≈ EUR 627’991)