Executive functions are higher-order mental processes that support goal-directed behavior. Among these processes, Inhibition, Updating, and Shifting have been considered core executive domains. In this meta-analysis, we comprehensively investigate the neural networks of these executive domains and we synthesize for the first time the neural convergences and divergences among the most frequently used executive paradigms within those domains. A systematic search yielded 1055 published neuroimaging studies (including 26,191 participants in total). Our study revealed that a fronto-parietal network was shared by the three main domains. Furthermore, we executed conjunction analyses among the paradigms of the same domain to extract the core distinctive components of the main executive domains. This approach showed that Inhibition and Shifting are characterized by a strongly lateralized neural activation in the right and left hemisphere, respectively. In addition, both networks overlapped with the Updating network but not with each other. Remarkably, our study detected heterogeneity among the paradigms from the same domain. More specifically, analysis of Inhibition tasks revealed differing activations for Response Inhibition compared to Interference Control paradigms, suggesting that Inhibition encompasses relatively heterogeneous sub-functions. Shifting analyses revealed a bilateral overlap of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task with the Updating network, but this pattern was absent for Rule Switching and Dual Task paradigms. Moreover, our Updating meta-analyses revealed the neural signatures associated with the specific modules of the Working Memory model from Baddeley and Hitch. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive meta-analysis of executive functions to date. Its paradigm-driven analyses provide a unique contribution to a better understanding of the neural convergences and divergences among executive processes that are relevant for clinical applications, such as cognitive enhancement and neurorehabilitation interventions.
Keywords: Cognitive control; Executive functions; Inhibition; Meta-analysis; Shifting; Updating.
Copyright © 2022. Published by Elsevier Inc.