Challenging a decade of brain research on task switching: brain activation in the task-switching paradigm reflects adaptation rather than reconfiguration of task sets

Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Mar;33(3):639-51. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21234. Epub 2011 Mar 9.


In daily life, we permanently need to adapt our behavior to new task situations, requiring cognitive control. Such adaptive processes are commonly investigated with the task-switching paradigm. Many fMRI studies have interpreted stronger activation for switch than repeat trials in fronto-parietal brain areas as reflecting an active reconfiguration process in switch trials, tuning the cognitive system for proper task execution. From the single cell literature, however, one could deduce the alternative interpretation that switch-specific activity reflects reduced brain activity in repeat trials due to adaptation. These alternative explanations cannot be distinguished by simply comparing brain activity in switch and repeat trials. Therefore, we used a parametric approach to examine which interpretation is more powerful to account for the data. In all areas of the fronto-parietal network, adaptation explained the data better than reconfiguration. Therefore, our results call the classical reconfiguration interpretation into question and provide first evidence for adaptation of abstract task representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult