In everyday life, we often use external artefacts such as diaries to help us remember intended behaviours. In addition, we commonly manipulate our environment, for example by placing reminders in noticeable places. Yet strategic offloading of intentions to the external environment is not typically permitted in laboratory tasks examining memory for delayed intentions. What factors influence our use of such strategies, and what behavioural consequences do they have? This article describes four online experiments (N?=?1196) examining a novel web-based task in which participants hold intentions for brief periods, with the option to strategically externalize these intentions by creating a reminder. This task significantly predicted participants' fulfilment of a naturalistic intention embedded within their everyday activities up to one week later (with greater predictive ability than more traditional prospective memory tasks, albeit with weak effect size). Setting external reminders improved performance, and it was more prevalent in older adults. Furthermore, participants set reminders adaptively, based on (a) memory load, and (b) the likelihood of distraction. These results suggest the importance of metacognitive processes in triggering intention offloading, which can increase the probability that intentions are eventually fulfilled.
Recent research suggests certain neuropsychological deficits occur in anorexia nervosa (AN). The role of starvation in these deficits remains unclear. Studies of individuals without AN can elucidate our understanding of the effect of short-term starvation on neuropsychological performance.
We investigated the impact of temporary food restriction on a set shifting task requiring participants to judge clusters of pictures against a frequently changing rule. 60 healthy female participants underwent two testing sessions: once after fasting for 16 hours and once in a satiated state. Participants also completed a battery of questionnaires (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale [HADS]; Persistence, Perseveration and Perfectionism Questionnaire [PPPQ-22]; and Eating Disorders Examination Questionnaire [EDE-Q6]). Set shifting costs were significantly increased after fasting; this effect was independent of self-reported mood and perseveration. Furthermore, higher levels of weight concern predicted a general performance decrement under conditions of fasting. We conclude that relatively short periods of fasting can lead to set shifting impairments. This finding may have relevance to studies of development, individual differences, and the interpretation of psychometric tests. It also could have implications for understanding the etiology and maintenance of eating disorders, in which impaired set shifting has been implicated.
Some autistic children pass classic Theory of Mind (ToM) tasks that others fail, but the significance of this finding is at present unclear. We identified two such groups of primary school age (labelled ToM+ and ToM-) and a matched comparison group of typically developing children (TD). Five years later we tested these participants again on a ToM test battery appropriate for adolescents and conducted an fMRI study with a story based ToM task. We also assessed autistic core symptoms at these two time points. At both times the ToM- group showed more severe social communication impairments than the ToM+ group, and while showing an improvement in mentalizing performance, they continued to show a significant impairment compared to the NT group. Two independent ROI analyses of the BOLD signal showed activation of the mentalizing network including medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate and lateral temporal cortices. Strikingly, both ToM+ and ToM- groups showed very similar patterns of heightened activation in comparison with the NT group. No differences in other brain regions were apparent. Thus, autistic adolescents who do not have a history of mentalizing problems according to our ToM battery showed the same atypical neurophysiological response during mentalizing as children who did have such a history. This finding indicates that heterogeneity at the behavioural level may nevertheless map onto a similar phenotype at the neuro-cognitive level.
Prospective memory (PM) refers to our ability to realize delayed intentions. In event-based PM paradigms, participants must act on an intention when they detect the occurrence of a pre-established cue. Some theorists propose that in such paradigms PM responding can only occur when participants deliberately initiate processes for monitoring their environment for appropriate cues. Others propose that perceptual processing of PM cues can directly trigger PM responding in the absence of strategic monitoring, at least under some circumstances. In order to address this debate, we present a computational model implementing the latter account, using a parallel distributed processing (interactive activation) framework. In this model PM responses can be triggered directly as a result of spreading activation from units representing perceptual inputs. PM responding can also be promoted by top-down monitoring for PM targets. The model fits a wide variety of empirical findings from PM paradigms, including the effect of maintaining PM intentions on ongoing response time and the intention superiority effect. The model also makes novel predictions concerning the effect of stimulus degradation on PM performance, the shape of response time distributions on ongoing and prospective memory trials, and the effects of instructing participants to make PM responses instead of ongoing responses or alongside them. These predictions were confirmed in two empirical experiments. We therefore suggest that PM should be considered to result from the interplay between bottom-up triggering of PM responses by perceptual input, and top-down monitoring for appropriate cues. We also show how the model can be extended to simulate encoding new intentions and subsequently deactivating them, and consider links between the models performance and results from neuroimaging.
This review was aimed at systematically investigating the evidence suggesting that obese individuals demonstrate impaired performance on behavioural tasks examining executive functioning abilities. A systematic review of literature was carried out by searching five separate databases (PsycINFO, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and PubMed) and a hand search of relevant journals. Twenty-one empirical papers were identified from the search criteria and the results were considered in relation to different executive functioning domains. There is little consistency of results both within and across different domains of executive functioning. The review suggests that obese individuals show difficulties with decision-making, planning and problem-solving when compared to healthy weight controls, with fewer difficulties reported on tasks examining verbal fluency and learning and memory. A lack of replication and underreporting of descriptive data is a key limitation of studies in this area and further research is needed to examine the mechanisms underpinning the relationship between obesity and executive functioning.
Some of the most striking symptoms after prefrontal damage are reduction of behavioral initiation and inability to suppress automatic behaviors. However, the relation between these 2 symptoms and the location of the lesions that cause them are not well understood. This study investigates the cerebral correlates of initiation and suppression abilities assessed by the Hayling Sentence Completion Test, using the human lesion approach. Forty-five patients with focal brain lesions and 110 healthy matched controls were examined. We combined a classical group approach with 2 voxel-based lesion methods. The results show several critical prefrontal regions to Hayling Test performance, associated with either common or differential impairment in "initiation" and "suppression" conditions. A crucial role for medial rostral prefrontal cortex (BA 10) in the initiation condition was shown by both group and lesion-mapping methods. A posterior inferolateral lesion provoked both initiation and suppression slowness, although to different degrees. An orbitoventral region was associated with errors in the suppression condition. These findings are important for clinical practice since they indicate that the brain regions required to perform a widely used and sensitive neuropsychological test but also shed light on the regions crucial for distinct components of adaptative behaviors, in particular, rostral prefrontal cortex.
Prospective memory (PM) denotes the function to realize intentions after a delay while being immersed in distracting ongoing (OG) activity. Here, we scrutinize the often-reported involvement of rostral prefrontal cortex (rPFC; approximating Brodmann area 10) in such situations: This region might mediate attention between external stimuli and the internally maintained intention, that is, between stimulus-oriented (SO) and stimulus-independent (SI) processing. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we orthogonally crossed 1) PM versus OG activity only, with 2) SO versus SI attention. In support of the hypothesis, common regions of medial rPFC exhibited greater blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal for the contrasts of both OG task only versus PM and SO versus SI attending. However, activation related to the former contrast extended more superiorly, suggesting a functional gradient along a dorsal-ventral axis within this region. Moreover, region-of-interest analyses revealed that PM versus OG task only was associated with greater BOLD signal in left lateral rPFC, reflecting the requirement to maintain delayed intentions. Distinct aspects of this region were also transiently engaged at transitions between SO and SI conditions. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that some of the rostral prefrontal signal changes associated with PM performance reflect relative differences in SO versus SI processing.
Remembering delayed intentions can be highly demanding. Accuracy in laboratory paradigms assessing prospective memory (PM) is typically well below ceiling, and failure to remember intended behaviors after a delay is a common occurrence in everyday life. However, relatively little is known of the potential differences in brain activity that distinguish successful versus unsuccessful PM. In this fMRI study, participants repeatedly encoded, stored, and then had the opportunity to retrieve intended behaviors while engaged in a distracting ongoing task. This yielded a success rate of approximately two thirds. Overall levels of brain activity distinguished successful versus unsuccessful trials at all three stages (encoding, storage, and retrieval), suggesting multiple neural determinants of PM success. In addition, the voxelwise similarity between patterns of brain activity at encoding and retrieval was greater for successful than unsuccessful trials. This was true even in posterior cingulate, which showed opposite patterns of signal change between encoding and retrieval. Thus, successful realization of delayed intentions may be associated with reinstatement of encoding context at the time of retrieval.
Evidence for successful socio-cognitive training in typical adults is rare. This study attempted to improve Theory of Mind (ToM) and visual perspective taking in healthy adults by training participants to either imitate or to inhibit imitation. Twenty-four hours after training, all participants completed tests of ToM and visual perspective taking. The group trained to inhibit their tendency to imitate showed improved performance on the visual perspective-taking test, but not the ToM test. Neither imitation training, nor general inhibition training, had this effect. These results support a novel theory of social cognition suggesting that the same self-other discrimination process underlies imitation inhibition and perspective taking. Imitation, perspective taking and ToM are all pro-social processes--ways in which we reach out to others. Therefore, it is striking that perspective taking can be enhanced by suppressing imitation; to understand another, sometimes we need, not to get closer, but to pull away.
Humans can vividly imagine possible future events. This faculty, episodic prospection, allows the simulation of distant outcomes and desires. Here, we provide evidence for the adaptive function of this capacity and elucidate its neuronal basis. Participants either imagined specific events of spending money (e.g., £ 35 in 180 days at a pub), or merely estimated what the money could purchase in the scenario. Imagining the future biased subsequent monetary decisions toward choices associated with a higher long-term pay-off. It thus effectively attenuated temporal discounting, i.e., the propensity to devalue rewards with a delay until delivery. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we implicate the medial rostral prefrontal cortex (mrPFC) in this effect. Blood oxygen level-dependent signal in this region predicted future-oriented choices on a trial-by-trial basis. Activation reflected the reward magnitude of imagined episodes, and greater reward sensitivity was related to less discounting. This effect was also associated with increased mrPFC-hippocampal coupling. The data suggest that mrPFC uses information conveyed by the hippocampus to represent the undiscounted utility of envisaged events. The immediate experience of the delayed reward value might then bias toward farsighted decisions.
Rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC) plays a key role in our ability to postpone the execution of intended behaviors until after another activity has been performed. However, it is poorly understood in computational terms. One crucial question is whether RLPFC represents the content of delayed intentions or plays a nonspecific role. In this human functional magnetic resonance imaging study (n = 32), RLPFC was active while participants stored delayed intentions during a distracting ongoing task. Multivariate analysis showed that the intended cue for future action and the intended behavior could be decoded from distinct posterior brain regions. However, the content of intentions could not be decoded from RLPFC itself. Functional connectivity analysis showed that RLPFC increased its coupling with content-representing regions during intention storage. Furthermore, trials with relatively high RLPFC activity were associated with enhanced decoding. Thus, RLPFC may enable realization of delayed intentions via interactions with posterior brain regions, which represent their content.
Patients with lesions in rostral prefrontal cortex (PFC) often experience problems in everyday-life situations requiring multitasking. A key cognitive component that is critical in multitasking situations is prospective memory, defined as the ability to carry out an intended action after a delay period filled with unrelated activity. The few functional imaging studies investigating prospective memory have shown consistent activation in both medial and lateral rostral PFC but also in more posterior prefrontal regions and non-frontal regions. The aim of this study was to determine regions that are necessary for prospective memory performance, using the human lesion approach. We designed an experimental paradigm allowing us to assess time-based (remembering to do something at a particular time) and event-based (remembering to do something in a particular situation) prospective memory, using two types of material, words and pictures. Time estimation tasks and tasks controlling for basic attention, inhibition and multiple instructions processing were also administered. We examined brain-behaviour relationships with a voxelwise lesion method in 45 patients with focal brain lesions and 107 control subjects using this paradigm. The results showed that lesions in the right polar prefrontal region (in Brodmann area 10) were specifically associated with a deficit in time-based prospective memory tasks for both words and pictures. This deficit could not be explained by impairments in basic attention, detection, inhibition or multiple instruction processing, and there was also no deficit in event-based prospective memory conditions. In addition to their prospective memory difficulties, these polar prefrontal patients were significantly impaired in time estimation ability compared to other patients. The same region was found to be involved using both words and pictures, suggesting that right rostral PFC plays a material nonspecific role in prospective memory. This is the first lesion study showing that rostral PFC is crucial for time-based prospective memory. The findings suggest that time-based and event-based prospective memory might be supported at least in part by distinct brain regions. Two particularly plausible explanations for the deficit rest upon a possible role for polar prefrontal structures in supporting in time estimation, and/or in retrieving an intention to act. More broadly, the results are consistent with the view that the deficit of rostral patients in multitasking situations might at least in part be explained by a deficit in prospective memory.
We investigated neuro-cognitive mechanisms involved with coordination of attention between current task performance and future action plans in prospective memory. We developed a novel task paradigm with continuous performance of a prospective memory task, where trial intervals of prospective memory targets were systematically manipulated in a periodic cycle of expanding and contracting target intervals. We found that subjects behaviour was significantly modulated without awareness of this temporal sequence of the targets: remembering to perform a prospective memory response to target events was more successful and faster in the expanding target interval phase, at the cost of lower and slower performance of ongoing tasks, while an opposite direction of this trade-off effect was observed in the contracting target interval phase. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we identified the similar trade-off effect in activations in the anterior medial prefrontal cortices (activation elevation at the target responses as well as deactivation at the ongoing responses in the expanding phase as compared with the contracting phase). The opposite direction of the trade-off was observed in the anterior cingulate cortex. These results show a clear case in which attention between current task performance and future action plans in prospective memory tasks is automatically regulated without particular task instructions or strategic control processes initiated by subjects. We suggest that medial areas of the frontal cortex specifically mediate the automatic coordination of attentional resources between current task performance and future action plans.
Recent studies have shown that functional connectivity in the human brain may be detected by analyzing the likelihood with which different brain regions are simultaneously activated, or "co-activated", across multiple neuroimaging experiments. We applied this technique to investigate whether distinct subregions within rostral prefrontal cortex (RoPFC) tend to co-activate with distinct sets of brain regions outside RoPFC, in a meta-analysis of 200 activation peaks within RoPFC (approximating Brodmann Area 10) and 1712 co-activations outside this region, drawn from 162 studies. There was little evidence for distinct connectivity between hemispheres or along rostral/caudal or superior/inferior axes. However, there was a clear difference between lateral and medial RoPFC: activation in lateral RoPFC was particularly associated with co-activation in dorsal anterior cingulate, dorsolateral PFC, anterior insula and lateral parietal cortex; medial RoPFC activation was particularly associated with co-activation in posterior cingulate, posterior superior temporal sulcus and temporal pole. These findings are consistent with anatomical studies of connectivity in non-human primates, despite strong cross-species differences in RoPFC. Furthermore, associations between brain regions inside and outside RoPFC were in some cases strongly influenced by the type of task being performed. For example, dorsolateral PFC, anterior cingulate and lateral parietal cortex tended to co-activate with lateral RoPFC in most tasks but with medial RoPFC in tasks involving mentalizing. These results suggest the importance of changes in effective connectivity in the performance of cognitive tasks.
The ability to select and manipulate self-generated (stimulus-independent, SI), as opposed to stimulus-oriented (SO), information, in a controlled and flexible way has previously only been studied in adults. This ability is thought to rely in part on the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC), which continues to mature anatomically during adolescence. We investigated (1) the development of this ability behaviorally, (2) the associated functional brain development, and (3) the link between functional and structural maturation. Participants classified according to their shape letters either presented visually (SO phases) or that they generated in their head by continuing the alphabet sequence (SI phases). SI phases were performed in the presence or absence of distracting letters. A total of 179 participants (7-27 years old) took part in a behavioral study. Resistance to visual distractors exhibited small improvements with age. SI thoughts manipulation and switching between SI and SO thoughts showed steeper performance improvements extending into late adolescence. Thirty-seven participants (11-30 years old) took part in a functional MRI (fMRI) study. SI thought manipulation and switching between SO and SI thought were each associated with brain regions consistently recruited across age. A single frontal brain region in each contrast exhibited decreased activity with age: left inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula for SI thought manipulation, and right superior RLPFC for switching between SO and SI thoughts. By integrating structural and functional data, we demonstrated that the observed functional changes with age were not purely consequences of structural maturation and thus may reflect the maturation of neurocognitive strategies.
Behavioural and neuroimaging studies suggest that spontaneous and task-related thought processes share common cognitive mechanisms and neural bases. Lateral rostral prefrontal cortex (RPFC) is a brain region that has been implicated both in spontaneous thought and in high-level cognitive control processes, such as goal/subgoal integration and the manipulation of self-generated thoughts. We therefore propose that the recruitment of lateral RPFC may follow a U-shaped function of cognitive demand: relatively high in low-demand situations conducive to the emergence of spontaneous thought, and in high-demand situations depending on processes supported by this brain region. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate brain activity while healthy participants performed two tasks, each with three levels of cognitive demands, in a block design. The frequency of task-unrelated thoughts, measured by questionnaire, was highest in the low cognitive demand condition. Low and high cognitive demand conditions were each compared to the intermediate level. Lateral RPFC and superior parietal cortex were recruited in both comparisons, with additional activations specific to each contrast. These results suggest that RPFC is involved both when (a) task demands are low, and the mind wanders, and (b) the task requires goal/subgoal integration and manipulation of self-generated thoughts.
Analogical reasoning is central to learning and abstract thinking. It involves using a more familiar situation (source) to make inferences about a less familiar situation (target). According to the predominant cognitive models, analogical reasoning includes 1) generation of structured mental representations and 2) mapping based on structural similarities between them. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to specify the role of rostral prefrontal cortex (PFC) in these distinct processes. An experimental paradigm was designed that enabled differentiation between these processes, by temporal separation of the presentation of the source and the target. Within rostral PFC, a lateral subregion was activated by analogy task both during study of the source (before the source could be compared with a target) and when the target appeared. This may suggest that this subregion supports fundamental analogy processes such as generating structured representations of stimuli but is not specific to one particular processing stage. By contrast, a dorsomedial subregion of rostral PFC showed an interaction between task (analogy vs. control) and period (more activated when the target appeared). We propose that this region is involved in comparison or mapping processes. These results add to the growing evidence for functional differentiation between rostral PFC subregions.
At what scale is it possible to observe consistent functional specialization within human prefrontal cortex (PFC), reproducible from one individual to the next? Some studies suggest gross functional divisions between large regions of PFC, but it is not known whether PFC exhibits specialization at the fine-grained scale known to differentiate posterior cortical functions. We used fMRI to confirm a three-way segregation of function between three regions of medial anterior PFC, each centered on coordinates within 15 mm of the other two. Naive participants performed three tasks based on earlier studies, and we investigated activity at regions defined by previous results. In each task, signal was significantly greater at the predicted region than the other two, just millimeters away. These results indicate reproducible functional specialization within PFC, at a much finer scale than previously demonstrated. Furthermore, these findings suggest that divergent results from previous studies may reflect the recruitment of functionally distinct regions and that "reverse inference" should be undertaken with caution.
Controlling everyday behaviour relies on the ability to configure appropriate task sets and guide attention towards information relevant to the current context and goals. Here, we ask whether these two aspects of cognitive control have different neural bases. Electrical brain activity was recorded while sixteen adults performed two discrimination tasks. The tasks were performed on either a visual input (letter on the screen) or self-generated information (letter generated internally by continuing the alphabetical sequence). In different blocks, volunteers either switched between (i) the two tasks, (ii) the two sources of information, or (iii) tasks and source of information. Event-related potentials differed significantly between switch and no-switch trials from an early point in time, encompassing at least three distinct effects. Crucially, although these effects showed quantitative differences across switch types, no qualitative differences were observed. Thus, at least under the current circumstances, switching between different tasks and between perceptually derived or self-generated sources of information rely on similar neural correlates until at least 900 ms after the onset of a switch event.
While neuroimaging studies implicate medial rostral prefrontal cortex (mrPFC) in self-referential processing, simulation accounts of social cognition suggest that this region also supports thinking about other people. This study tested the prediction that mrPFC might be involved in appraising the personality traits of another person to the degree that this person is perceived as similar to oneself. We also examined whether recruiting common processes for thinking about oneself and others might impact on subsequent memory for those judgments. Functional MRI was used while two factors were crossed: (i) the requirement to engage in personality trait or episodic source memory judgments and (ii) the reference for these judgments (i.e., oneself or a friend). The results link haemodynamic changes in mrPFC to both personality judgments about oneself and subsequent episodic memory retrieval of these judgments. The degree to which BOLD signal in this region was also associated with thinking about others correlated with perceived similarity in both tasks, thus corroborating simulation accounts. Moreover, participants who perceived themselves as having similar traits to their friends tended to be poorer at remembering whether they had made trait judgments in reference to themselves or their friend. This behavioral effect was reflected in the BOLD signal in mrPFC: there was a positive correlation between signal change for self versus friend judgments and subsequent memory for the reference of such judgments. The results suggest that investigations of mrPFC activity in the context of self/other judgments should take into account this psychological similarity effect.
Mesulams (1986) mystery is that some patients with frontal lobe damage may show no cognitive impairment according to traditional office-based assessment procedures, yet nevertheless show marked cognitive handicap in everyday life. Mesulam suggested that "the office setting may introduce sufficient external structure to suppress some of these behavioral tendencies" (p. 322). We ask if it is indeed the office setting that is the problem, or whether it is that traditional assessments do not measure the full range of cognitive functions supported by prefrontal cortex.
In ill-structured tasks, the problem to be solved is poorly specified and there is no unique correct solution. Most evidence on brain mechanisms involved in dealing with such tasks comes from neuropsychology. Here, we developed an ill-structured design task suitable for testing in a functional neuroimaging environment and compared it with a matched well-structured problem-solving task using fMRI. Consistent with prior neuropsychological results, the design task was associated with greater activity in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex compared with problem solving. This differential activity was specific to the problem studying phase rather than performance. Furthermore, the design and problem-solving tasks differed not only in overall levels of brain activity but also in patterns of functional interactions between brain regions. These results provide new evidence on the role of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in ill-structured situations, such as those involved in design cognition. Additionally, these results confirm the suitability of functional neuroimaging for studying such situations.
In everyday life, one can link anticipated specific cues (e.g. visiting a restaurant) with desired actions (e.g., ordering a healthy meal). Alternatively, intentions such as "I intend to eat more healthily" present the option to act when one encounters the same cue. In the first case, a specific cue triggers a specific action; in the second, one must act in a more self-initiated manner. The authors compared such scenarios using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants were either instructed to respond in a particular manner to target events (cued condition) or told that they would score points for such responses, without being told that they were necessary (self-initiated condition). Although conditions differed only in the wording of instructions, the self-initiated condition was associated with poorer performance and greater activity in a predominantly frontoparietal network. Responses to targets in the self-initiated and cued conditions yielded greater activity in lateral and medial Brodmann area 10, respectively. The authors suggest that these results reflect differing demands for self-initiated versus externally cued behavior following different types of instruction, in line with the distinction between goal intentions and implementation intentions proposed by P. M. Gollwitzer and colleagues.
In the neuropsychological case series approach, tasks are administered that tap different cognitive domains, and differences within rather than across individuals are the basis for theorising; each individual is effectively their own control. This approach is a mainstay of cognitive neuropsychology, and is particularly suited to the study of populations with heterogeneous deficits. However it has very rarely been applied to the study of cognitive differences in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here, we investigate whether this approach can yield information beyond that given by the typical group study method, when applied to an ASD population. Twenty-one high-functioning adult ASD participants and 22 IQ, age, and gender-matched control participants were administered a large battery of neuropsychological tests that would represent a typical neuropsychological assessment for neurological patients in the United Kingdom. The data were analysed using both group and single-case study methods. The group analysis revealed a limited number of deficits, principally on tests with a large executive function component, with no impairment in more routine abilities such as basic attending, language and perception. Single-case study analysis proved more fruitful revealing evidence of considerable variation in abilities both between and within ASD participants. Both sub-normal and supra-normal performance were observed, with the most defining feature of the ASD group being this variability. We conclude that the use of group-level analysis alone in the study of cognitive deficits in ASD risks missing cognitive characteristics that may be vitally important both theoretically and clinically, and even may be misleading because of averaging artifact.
To elucidate the time course and processes underlying pre-movement modification of planned actions, participants prepared to make an action at a time of their own choosing within a specified temporal window. In some conditions, participants prepared to make a single right index finger key press, whereas in others, they prepared to make a sequence of two key presses consisting of a right index finger key press followed by a right middle finger key press. On a proportion of trials, their internal preparation was interrupted by an auditory tone, in response to which they made either: the same action as they were intending, a different action requiring an additional effector (i.e. switch from preparing a single right index finger key press to executing a right index, middle finger sequence), or a different action requiring one less effector (i.e. switch from preparing a right index, middle finger sequence to executing a right index finger key press). For unmodified actions, switching from an internally generated to an externally triggered mode of response production produced a significant reaction time cost (RT cost) for both single and sequential actions, with the cost for single actions being significantly greater than that for sequential actions. Given that the RT cost did not increase as the complexity of the actions increased it is unlikely that the source of the cost is related to motor execution processes, and it is suggested that it may arise at a higher level cognitive stage of processing. In addition, reaction times to produce modified actions were significantly greater than those to produce unmodified actions. Finally, it took significantly longer to produce modified actions requiring one less effector than to produce modified actions requiring one more effector. We suggest that two time-consuming processes are involved in switching between internally generated and externally triggered actions that are modified or unmodified: a trigger switch cost when the same action has to be produced in response to an external trigger as opposed to an internal trigger, and a switch cost reflecting changes in the pattern of executed motor commands when modification is necessary. It is suggested that such processes may be mediated by regions of the frontal lobes.
Multi-voxel pattern analyses have proved successful in decoding mental states from fMRI data, but have not been used to examine brain differences associated with atypical populations. We investigated a group of 16 (14 males) high-functioning participants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 16 non-autistic control participants (12 males) performing two tasks (spatial/verbal) previously shown to activate medial rostral prefrontal cortex (mrPFC). Each task manipulated: (i) attention towards perceptual versus self-generated information and (ii) reflection on another persons mental state (mentalizingversus non-mentalizing) in a 2 x 2 design. Behavioral performance and group-level fMRI results were similar between groups. However, multi-voxel similarity analyses revealed strong differences. In control participants, the spatial distribution of activity generalized significantly between task contexts (spatial/verbal) when examining the same function (attention/mentalizing) but not when comparing different functions. This pattern was disrupted in the ASD group, indicating abnormal functional specialization within mrPFC, and demonstrating the applicability of multi-voxel pattern analysis to investigations of atypical populations.
When interacting with someone from another social group, ones responses may be influenced by both stereotypes and evaluations. Given behavioral results suggesting that stereotypes and evaluative associations operate independently, we used fMRI to test whether these biases are mediated by distinct brain systems. White participants viewed pairs of Black or White faces and judged them based on an evaluation (who would you befriend?) or a stereotype-relevant trait (who is more likely to enjoy athletic activities?). Multi-voxel pattern analysis revealed that a predominantly occipital network represented race in a context-invariant manner. However, lateral orbitofrontal cortex preferentially represented race during friendship judgments, whereas anterior medial prefrontal cortex preferentially represented race during trait judgments. Furthermore, representation of race in left temporal pole correlated with a behavioral measure of evaluative bias during friendship judgments and, independently, a measure of stereotyping during trait judgments. Whereas early sensory regions represent race in an apparently invariant manner, representations in higher-level regions are multi-componential and context-dependent.
The "default mode network" is commonly described as a set of brain regions in which activity is suppressed during relatively demanding, or difficult, tasks. But what sort of tasks are these? We review some of the contrasting ways in which a task might be assessed as being difficult, such as error rate, response time, propensity to interfere with performance of other tasks, and requirement for transformation of internal representations versus accumulation of perceptual information. We then describe a fMRI study in which 18 participants performed two "stimulus-oriented" tasks, where responses were directly cued by visual stimuli, alongside a "stimulus-independent" task, with a greater reliance on internally generated information. When indexed by response time and error rate, the stimulus-independent task was intermediate in difficulty between the two stimulus-oriented tasks. Nevertheless, BOLD signal in medial rostral prefrontal cortex (MPFC) - a prominent part of the default mode network - was reduced in the stimulus-independent condition in comparison with both the more difficult and the less difficult stimulus-oriented conditions. By contrast, other regions of the default mode network showed greatest deactivation in the difficult stimulus-oriented condition. There was therefore significant functional heterogeneity between different default mode regions. We conclude that task difficulty - as measured by response time and error rate - does not provide an adequate account of signal change in MPFC. At least in some circumstances, a better predictor of MPFC activity is the requirement of a task for transformation and manipulation of internally represented information, with greatest MPFC activity in situations predominantly requiring attention to perceptual information.
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