Neural Dynamics of Context-sensitive Adjustments in Cognitive Flexibility.
To adaptively interact with the uncertainties of daily life, we must match our level of cognitive flexibility to situations that place different demands on our ability to focus on the current task while remaining sensitive to cues that signal other, more urgent tasks. Such cognitive-flexibility adjustments in response to changing contextual demands (metaflexibility) have been observed in cued task-switching paradigms, where the performance cost incurred by switching versus repeating tasks (switch cost) scales inversely with the proportion of switches (PS) within a block of trials. However, the neural underpinnings of these adjustments in cognitive flexibility are not well understood. Here, we recorded 64-channel EEG measures of electrical brain activity as participants switched between letter and digit categorization tasks in varying PS contexts, from which we extracted ERPs elicited by the task cue and EEG alpha-power differences during both the cue-to-target interval and the resting precue period. The temporal resolution of EEG/ERPs allowed us to test whether contextual adjustments in cognitive flexibility are mediated by tonic changes in processing mode, or by changes in phasic, task-cue-triggered processes. We observed reliable modulation of behavioral switch cost by PS context that were mirrored in both cue-evoked ERP and time-frequency effects, but not in blockwide precue EEG changes. These results indicate that different levels of cognitive flexibility are instantiated in response to the presentation of task cues, rather than by being maintained as a tonic neural-activity state difference between low- and high-switch contexts.
Siqi-Liu, A; Egner, T; Woldorff, MG
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