Goal Neglect and Spearman's g: Competing Parts of a Complex Task

John Duncan*, Alice Parr, Alexandra Woolgar, Russell Thompson, Peter Bright, Sally Cox, Sonia Bishop, Ian Nimmo-Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Citations (Scopus)


In goal neglect, a person ignores some task requirement though being able to describe it. Goal neglect is closely related to general intelligence or C. Spearman's (1904) g (J. Duncan, H. Emslie, P. Williams, R. Johnson, & C. Freer, 1996). The authors tested the role of task complexity in neglect and the hypothesis that different task components in some sense compete for attention. In contrast to many kinds of attentional limits, increasing the real-time demands of one task component does not promote neglect of another. Neither does neglect depend on preparation for different possible events in a block of trials. Instead, the key factor is complexity in the whole body of knowledge specified in task instructions. The authors suggest that as novel activity is constructed, relevant facts, rules, and requirements must be organized into a "task model." As this model increases in complexity, different task components compete for representation, and vulnerable components may be lost. Construction of effective task models is closely linked to g.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-148
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


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