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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Nov 17;112(46):14372-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1511423112. Epub 2015 Oct 12.

Training conquers multitasking costs by dividing task representations in the frontoparietal-subcortical system.

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School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia


Negotiating the information-rich sensory world often requires the concurrent management of multiple tasks. Despite this requirement, humans are thought to be poor at multitasking because of the processing limitations of frontoparietal and subcortical (FP-SC) brain regions. Although training is known to improve multitasking performance, it is unknown how the FP-SC system functionally changes to support improved multitasking. To address this question, we characterized the FP-SC changes that predict training outcomes using an individual differences approach. Participants (n = 100) performed single and multiple tasks in pre- and posttraining magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sessions interspersed by either a multitasking or an active-control training regimen. Multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA) revealed that training induced multitasking improvements were predicted by divergence in the FP-SC blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response patterns to the trained tasks. Importantly, this finding was only observed for participants who completed training on the component (single) tasks and their combination (multitask) and not for the control group. Therefore, the FP-SC system supports multitasking behavior by segregating constituent task representations.


MVPA; cognitive training; executive function; frontoparietal–subcortical; multitasking

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