He Who Is Well Prepared Has Half Won The Battle: An fMRI Study of Task Preparation.
Date of Original Version
Abstract or Description
The neural mechanism underlying preparation for tasks that vary in difficulty has not been explored. This functional magnetic resonance imaging study manipulated task difficulty by varying the working memory (WM) load of the n-back task. Each n-back task block was preceded by a preparation period involving a screen that indicated the level of difficulty of the upcoming task. Consistent with previous work, activation in some brain regions depended on WM load in the task. These regions were used as regions of interest for the univariate and multivariate (classification) analyses of preparation periods. The findings were that the patterns of brain activation during task preparation contain information about the upcoming task difficulty. (1) A support vector machine classifier was able to decode the n-back task difficulty from the patterns of brain activation during task preparation. Those individuals whose activation patterns for anticipated 1- versus 2- versus 3-back conditions were classified with higher accuracy showed better behavioral performance on the task, suggesting that task performance depends on task preparation. (2) Left inferior frontal gyrus, intraparietal sulcus, and anterior cingulate cortex parametrically decreased activation as anticipated task difficulty increased. Taken together, these results suggest dynamic involvement of the WM network not only during WM task performance, but also during task preparation.