Lasse S. Loose, David Wisniewski, Marco Rusconi, Thomas Goschke and John-Dylan Haynes
Journal of Neuroscience 16 August 2017, 37 (33) 8033-8042; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3656-16.2017
Alternating between two tasks is effortful and impairs performance. Previous fMRI studies have found increased activity in frontoparietal cortex when task switching is required. One possibility is that the additional control demands for switch trials are met by strengthening task representations in the human brain. Alternatively, on switch trials, the residual representation of the previous task might impede the buildup of a neural task representation. This would predict weaker task representations on switch trials, thus also explaining the performance costs. To test this, male and female participants were cued to perform one of two similar tasks, with the task being repeated or switched between successive trials. Multivoxel pattern analysis was used to test which regions encode the tasks and whether this encoding differs between switch and repeat trials. As expected, we found information about task representations in frontal and parietal cortex, but there was no difference in the decoding accuracy of task-related information between switch and repeat trials. Using cross-classification, we found that the frontoparietal cortex encodes tasks using a generalizable spatial pattern in switch and repeat trials. Therefore, task representations in frontal and parietal cortex are largely switch independent. We found no evidence that neural information about task representations in these regions can explain behavioral costs usually associated with task switching.