The neural correlates of problem states: testing FMRI predictions of a computational model of multitasking

PLoS One. 2010 Sep 23;5(9):e12966. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012966.


Background: It has been shown that people can only maintain one problem state, or intermediate mental representation, at a time. When more than one problem state is required, for example in multitasking, performance decreases considerably. This effect has been explained in terms of a problem state bottleneck.

Methodology: In the current study we use the complimentary methodologies of computational cognitive modeling and neuroimaging to investigate the neural correlates of this problem state bottleneck. In particular, an existing computational cognitive model was used to generate a priori fMRI predictions for a multitasking experiment in which the problem state bottleneck plays a major role. Hemodynamic responses were predicted for five brain regions, corresponding to five cognitive resources in the model. Most importantly, we predicted the intraparietal sulcus to show a strong effect of the problem state manipulations.

Conclusions: Some of the predictions were confirmed by a subsequent fMRI experiment, while others were not matched by the data. The experiment supported the hypothesis that the problem state bottleneck is a plausible cause of the interference in the experiment and that it could be located in the intraparietal sulcus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition*
  • Computational Biology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Problem Solving*
  • Radiography
  • Young Adult