Despite extensive research into executive function (EF), the precise relationship between brain dynamics and flexible cognition remains unknown. Using a large, publicly available dataset (189 participants), we find that functional connections measured throughout 56min of resting state fMRI data comprise five distinct connectivity states. Elevated EF performance as measured outside of the scanner was associated with greater episodes of more frequently occurring connectivity states, and fewer episodes of less frequently occurring connectivity states. Frequently occurring states displayed metastable properties, where cognitive flexibility may be facilitated by attenuated correlations and greater functional connection variability. Less frequently occurring states displayed properties consistent with low arousal and low vigilance. These findings suggest that elevated EF performance may be associated with the propensity to occupy more frequently occurring brain configurations that enable cognitive flexibility, while avoiding less frequently occurring brain configurations related to low arousal/vigilance states. The current findings offer a novel framework for identifying neural processes related to individual differences in executive function.
Keywords: Cognitive flexibility; Dynamic functional network connectivity; Executive function; Human connectome project; Resting-state fMRI.
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