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Neurophysiological signature of effective anticipatory task-set control: a task-switching investigation


Professor S. Monsell, as above.


Changing between cognitive tasks requires a reorganization of cognitive processes. Behavioural evidence suggests this can occur in advance of the stimulus. However, the existence or detectability of an anticipatory task-set reconfiguration process remains controversial, in part because several neuroimaging studies have not detected extra brain activity during preparation for a task switch relative to a task repeat. In contrast, electrophysiological studies have identified potential correlates of preparation for a task switch, but their interpretation is hindered by the scarcity of evidence on their relationship to performance. We aimed to: (i) identify the brain potential(s) reflecting effective preparation for a task-switch in a task-cuing paradigm that shows clear behavioural evidence for advance preparation, and (ii) characterize this activity by means of temporal segmentation and source analysis. Our results show that when advance preparation was effective (as indicated by fast responses), a protracted switch-related component, manifesting itself as widespread posterior positivity and concurrent right anterior negativity, preceded stimulus onset for ∼300 ms, with sources primarily in the left lateral frontal, right inferior frontal and temporal cortices. When advance preparation was ineffective (as implied by slow responses), or made impossible by a short cue–stimulus interval (CSI), a similar component, with lateral prefrontal generators, peaked ∼300 ms poststimulus. The protracted prestimulus component (which we show to be distinct from P3 or contingent negative variation, CNV) also correlated over subjects with a behavioural measure of preparation. Furthermore, its differential lateralization for word and picture cues was consistent with a role for verbal self-instruction in preparatory task-set reconfiguration.