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Task-specific preparatory neural activations in low-interference contexts


How the brain prepares for forthcoming events is a pivotal question in human neuroscience. In the last years, several studies have suggested that expectations of perceiving upcoming stimuli engage relevant perceptual areas. Similarly, some experiments manipulating the task to be performed with targets have also found pre-activations in task-related brain areas. However, the usual configuration of this type of paradigms entails high levels of interference and/or working memory load, together with a small set of target stimuli. We designed a cued task paradigm in which interference was reduced to a minimum, as evidenced by behavioral indices of performance, and that included a high number of targets to avoid their anticipation. This was achieved using a large set of univalent target stimuli preceded by fully valid cues in a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment. We found category-specific patterns of activity in which semantic cues engaged the left inferior frontal gyrus whereas spatial cues preactivated the right superior parietal lobe. Together with functional connectivity analyses, the activation maps showed the specific involvement of semantic and spatial processes upon the presentation of the cues that are coherent with previous literature. Our results thus suggest that even in contexts of low interference that prevent the anticipation of specific targets, our brain takes advantage of current information to deal with upcoming demands.

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Financial support to this research came from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through a ‘Ramón y Cajal’ research fellowship (RYC-2008-03008) and grant PSI2013-45567-P to M.R, and PSI2011-23624 to R.de D.B. This research is part of C.G-G’s activities for the Psychology Graduate Program of the University of Granada.

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Correspondence to María Ruz.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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González-García, C., Mas-Herrero, E., de Diego-Balaguer, R. et al. Task-specific preparatory neural activations in low-interference contexts. Brain Struct Funct 221, 3997–4006 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-015-1141-5

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  • Preparation
  • Cognitive control
  • Interference
  • Task set