Common and distinct neural correlates of dual-tasking and task-switching: a meta-analytic review and a neuro-cognitive processing model of human multitasking

Brain Struct Funct. 2019 Jun;224(5):1845-1869. doi: 10.1007/s00429-019-01870-4. Epub 2019 Apr 29.


Although there are well-known limitations of the human cognitive system in performing two tasks simultaneously (dual-tasking) or alternatingly (task-switching), the question for a common vs. distinct neural basis of these multitasking limitations is still open. We performed two Activation Likelihood Estimation meta-analyses of neuroimaging studies on dual-tasking or task-switching and tested for commonalities and differences in the brain regions associated with either domain. We found a common core network related to multitasking comprising bilateral intraparietal sulcus (IPS), left dorsal premotor cortex (dPMC), and right anterior insula. Meta-analytic contrasts revealed eight fronto-parietal clusters more consistently activated in dual-tasking (bilateral frontal operculum, dPMC, and anterior IPS, left inferior frontal sulcus and left inferior frontal gyrus) and, conversely, four clusters (left inferior frontal junction, posterior IPS, and precuneus as well as frontomedial cortex) more consistently activated in task-switching. Together with sub-analyses of preparation effects in task-switching, our results argue against purely passive structural processing limitations in multitasking. Based on these findings and drawing on current theorizing, we present a neuro-cognitive processing model of multitasking.

Keywords: ALE meta-analysis; Cognitive control; Executive function; Multitasking; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Multitasking Behavior / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*