Neural mechanisms of dual-task interference and cognitive capacity limitation in the prefrontal cortex

Nat Neurosci. 2014 Apr;17(4):601-11. doi: 10.1038/nn.3667. Epub 2014 Mar 2.


Simultaneous performance of two tasks often leads to performance deficits in the component tasks. This effect, known as dual-task interference, is thought to be a proof of capacity limitation in cognition, and the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) has been highlighted as its putative neural substrate. Here we recorded single-neuron activities in LPFC while monkeys performed dual tasks that required the simultaneous performance of a varying-load spatial attention task and a spatial memory task. We found that the performance of the monkeys exhibited dual-task interference, and prefrontal neuron activities showed a decreased ability to represent task-relevant information to a degree proportional to the increased demand of the concurrent counterpart task. The locus of the interference was shown to originate in the simultaneous, overloaded recruitment of the same LPFC neural population by the two tasks. These results provide direct neurophysiological evidence for, and constraints to, psychological models of dual-task interference and capacity limitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cues
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Macaca
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*