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Neuroimage. 2001 Aug;14(2):417-26.

Interdependence of nonoverlapping cortical systems in dual cognitive tasks.

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Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.


One of the classic questions about human thinking concerns the limited ability to perform two cognitive tasks concurrently, such as a novice driver's difficulty in simultaneously driving and conversing. Limitations on the concurrent performance of two unrelated tasks challenge the tacitly assumed independence of two brain systems that seemingly have little overlap. The current study used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure cortical activation during the concurrent performance of two high-level cognitive tasks that involve different sensory modalities and activate largely nonoverlapping areas of sensory and association cortex. One task was auditory sentence comprehension, and the other was the mental rotation of visually depicted 3-D objects. If the neural systems underlying the two tasks functioned independently, then in the dual task the brain activation in the main areas supporting the cognitive processing should be approximately the conjunction of the activation for each of the two tasks performed alone. We found instead that in the dual task, the activation in association areas (primarily temporal and parietal areas of cortex) was substantially less than the sum of the activation when the two tasks were performed alone, suggesting some mutual constraint among association areas. A similar result was obtained for sensory areas as well.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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