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J Neurosci. 2014 Aug 6;34(32):10743-55. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5282-13.2014.

Frontoparietal representations of task context support the flexible control of goal-directed cognition.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305,
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom WC1N 3AR, and.
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305.
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095.
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, Neurosciences Program, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305.


Cognitive control allows stimulus-response processing to be aligned with internal goals and is thus central to intelligent, purposeful behavior. Control is thought to depend in part on the active representation of task information in prefrontal cortex (PFC), which provides a source of contextual bias on perception, decision making, and action. In the present study, we investigated the organization, influences, and consequences of context representation as human subjects performed a cued sorting task that required them to flexibly judge the relationship between pairs of multivalent stimuli. Using a connectivity-based parcellation of PFC and multivariate decoding analyses, we determined that context is specifically and transiently represented in a region spanning the inferior frontal sulcus during context-dependent decision making. We also found strong evidence that decision context is represented within the intraparietal sulcus, an area previously shown to be functionally networked with the inferior frontal sulcus at rest and during task performance. Rule-guided allocation of attention to different stimulus dimensions produced discriminable patterns of activation in visual cortex, providing a signature of top-down bias over perception. Furthermore, demands on cognitive control arising from the task structure modulated context representation, which was found to be strongest after a shift in task rules. When context representation in frontoparietal areas increased in strength, as measured by the discriminability of high-dimensional activation patterns, the bias on attended stimulus features was enhanced. These results provide novel evidence that illuminates the mechanisms by which humans flexibly guide behavior in complex environments.


attention; cognitive control; decision making; prefrontal cortex

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