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Neuroimage. 2011 Jun 1;56(3):1608-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.03.017. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Probing the cortical network underlying the psychological refractory period: a combined EEG-fMRI study.

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1
Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel. g.hesselmann@gmail.com

Abstract

Human performance exhibits strong multi-tasking limitations in simple response time tasks. In the psychological refractory period (PRP) paradigm, where two tasks have to be performed in brief succession, central processing of the second task is delayed when the two tasks are performed at short time intervals. Here, we aimed to probe the cortical network underlying this postponement of central processing by simultaneously recording electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data while 12 subjects performed two simple number-comparison tasks. Behavioral data showed a significant slowing of response times to the second target stimulus at short stimulus-onset asynchronies, together with significant correlations between response times to the first and second target stimulus, i.e., the hallmarks of the PRP effect. The analysis of EEG data showed a significant delay of the post-perceptual P3 component evoked by the second target, which was of similar magnitude as the effect on response times. fMRI data revealed an involvement of parietal and prefrontal regions in dual-task processing. The combined analysis of fMRI and EEG data-based on the trial-by-trial variability of the P3-revealed that BOLD signals in two bilateral regions in the inferior parietal lobe and precentral gyrus significantly covaried with P3 related activity. Our results show that combining neuroimaging methods of high spatial and temporal resolutions can help to identify cortical regions underlying the central bottleneck of information processing, and strengthen the conclusion that fronto-parietal cortical regions participate in a distributed "global neuronal workspace" system that underlies the generation of the P3 component and may be one of the key cerebral underpinnings of the PRP bottleneck.

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