Why is the WCST a test of task switching rather than cognitive shifting?

Task switching allows a person to rapidly and efficiently adapt to different situations. It is often studied by cognitive and experimental psychologists, and can be tested experimentally using tasks like the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test.


Cognitive shifting is the mental process of consciously redirecting one's attention from one fixation to another. In contrast, if this process happened unconsciously, then it is referred to as task switching. Both are forms of cognitive flexibility.

What I'm not understanding is, given e.g. the following screen

enter image description here

the participant is not consciously redirecting themselves? It seems quite easy to fulfill the task consciously, but its meant to be a measure of unconscious flexibility.

To state the obvious, and how to do so deliberately: work out what properties the card has (colour, shape, number); then work out what these are (red, cross, two); then match these to the properties of another card (one red circle, four yellow crosses, two green stars) and try each of these until you get the right answer.

Surely it can be done consciously, then?

EDITED to add that I took this test on a site, and, with the test in front of me had to sit it twice before realizing there were three, not two, card properties. Incidentally, my score was horrific. Baffling!

  • $\begingroup$ Where have you read that WCST is a task switching test? The wikipedia article you link calls it 'set-shifting' and leads to a page on cognitive flexibility. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Jul 3 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ my first quote? @StevenJeuris $\endgroup$ – user3293056 Jul 3 at 10:55

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