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The role of sustained posterior brain activity in the serial chaining of two cognitive operations: A MEG study


  • This project was supported by a grant from the Human Frontier Science Program to S. Dehaene, K. Shapiro, P. Roelfsema, M. Sigman, and W. Vanduffel and by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31170979), the Humanities and Social Sciences Foundation of the Ministry of Education, China (Grant No. 11YJC190006), and the self-determined research funds of CCNU from the colleges' basic research and operation of MOE, China (Grant No. CCNU11A02019) to Z. Fan. Funding was also provided by the Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience (WICN) to K. Singh and K. Shapiro.

Address correspondence to: Kimron Shapiro, School of Psychology, Bangor University, Bangor, Wales, UK LL57 2AS. E-mail:


A fundamental necessity in human cognition is to link sequential mental operations where appropriate execution of the second task requires input from the first. The present study explores the neural basis of such “chaining” using a novel psychological refractory period (PRP) task. Participants were required to make speeded responses to two sequential visual tasks that were chained or independent.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) signals were recorded simultaneously to reveal the brain's response to these similar but fundamentally different conditions. RTs to Task 1 and 2 were slower in the Chained condition, and their temporal coupling weakened, relative to the Independent condition. MEG analysis of the accompanying event-related fields (ERFs) revealed an increased sustained posterior component in the Chained condition beginning approximately 350 ms after Task 2 onset and lasting for 450 ms. Beamformer localization of this ERF effect revealed a left hemisphere source near the junction of the temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes. These results extend our understanding of the behavioral and corresponding neural mechanisms required by everyday decision making.

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