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Domain-independent neural underpinning of task-switching: an fMRI investigation

, : Domain-independent neural underpinning of task-switching: an fMRI investigation. Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior 65: 173-183

The ability to shift between different tasks according to internal or external demands, which is at the core of our behavioral flexibility, has been generally linked to the functionality of left fronto-parietal regions. Traditionally, the left and right hemispheres have also been associated with verbal and spatial processing, respectively. We therefore investigated with functional MRI whether the processes engaged during task-switching interact in the brain with the domain of the tasks to be switched, that is, verbal or spatial. Importantly, physical stimuli were exactly the same and participants' performance was matched between the two domains. The fMRI results showed a clearly left-lateralized involvement of fronto-parietal regions when contrasting task-switching versus single task blocks in the context of verbal rules. A more bilateral pattern, especially in the prefrontal cortex, was instead observed for switching between spatial tasks. Moreover, while a conjunction analysis showed that the core regions involved in task-switching, independently of the switching context, were localized both in left inferior prefrontal and parietal cortices and in bilateral supplementary motor area, a direct analysis of functional lateralization revealed that hemispheric asymmetries in the frontal lobes were more biased toward the left side for the verbal domain than for the spatial one and vice versa. Overall, these findings highlight the role of left fronto-parietal regions in task-switching, above and beyond the specific task requirements, but also show that hemispheric asymmetries may be modulated by the more specific nature of the tasks to be performed during task-switching.


PMID: 25734897

DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.01.016

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