Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Task complexity is critical in cognitive efficiency and fluid intelligence. To examine functional limits in task complexity, we examine the phenomenon of goal neglect, where participants with low fluid intelligence fail to follow task rules that they otherwise understand. Though neglect is known to increase with task complexity, here we show that - in contrast to previous accounts - the critical factor is not the total complexity of all task rules. Instead, when the space of task requirements can be divided into separate sub-parts, neglect is controlled by the complexity of each component part. The data also show that neglect develops and stabilizes over the first few performance trials, i.e. as instructions are first used to generate behaviour. In all complex behaviour, a critical process is combination of task events with retrieved task requirements to create focused attentional episodes dealing with each decision in turn. In large part, we suggest, fluid intelligence may reflect this process of converting complex requirements into effective attentional episodes.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





11 - 30


Chunking, Cognitive control, Goal neglect, Intelligence, Working memory, Adult, Aged, Executive Function, Female, Goals, Humans, Intelligence, Male, Memory, Short-Term, Middle Aged