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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 Dec;25(3):701-10. Epub 2005 Dec 1.

Task difficulty in a simultaneous face matching task modulates activity in face fusiform area.

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  • 1Alzheimer Memorial Center and Geriatric Psychiatry Branch, Department of Psychiatry, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Nussbaumstr. 7, 80336 Munich, Germany.


The level of difficulty of a task can alter the neural network that activates for performance of the task. Previous studies have shown increased activation with task difficulty in the frontal lobes while the effects in the extrastriate visual areas have been unclear. We hypothesized that the face fusiform area (FFA), an area specialized for face processing, would increase activation as task difficulty increased in a face matching task. The difficulty level was increased by degrading the quality of the images. The degradation levels were 10%, 20%, 40% and 60%. Based on the correct response rate, the data were divided into a baseline level (composed of non-degraded and 10% degraded images) and a difficult level (composed of the 20%, 40% and 60% degraded images). Brain activation was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The baseline face matching task activated a wide network of regions that included bilaterally the occipital, temporal and parietal lobes and the right frontal lobe. A novel behavioral finding was that task difficulty did not linearly increase with image degradation. The novel brain imaging finding was that the FFA is modulated by task difficulty and performance in the task was linearly correlated to activation in FFA. In addition, we found that activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) had increased activation as task difficulty increased. When adding the response time as a covariate, the differences in the DLPFC did not remain statistically significant. Increased task difficulty also led to a decrease in activation of visual areas in the extrastriate cortex. Task difficulty increased activation in the FFA to enhance the face processing and suppressed activation in visual extrastriate areas that processed low level properties of the stimuli. Task difficulty led to enhanced response in the FFA and suppressed response in other visual areas.

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