The many faces of preparatory control in task switching: reviewing a decade of fMRI research

Hannes Ruge, Sharna Jamadar, Uta Zimmermann, Frini Karayanidis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)


A large body of behavioural research has used the cued task-switching paradigm to characterize the nature of trial-by-trial preparatory adjustments that enable fluent task implementation when demands on cognitive flexibility are high. This work reviews the growing number of fMRI studies on the same topic, mostly focusing on the central hypothesis that preparatory adjustments should be indicated by enhanced prefrontal and parietal BOLD activation in task switch when compared with task repeat trials under conditions that enable advance task preparation. The evaluation of this straight-forward hypothesis reveals surprisingly heterogeneous results regarding both the precise localization and the very existence of switch-related preparatory activation. Explanations for these inconsistencies are considered on two levels. First, we discuss methodological issues regarding (i) the possible impact of different fMRI-specific experimental design modifications and (ii) statistical uncertainty in the context of massively multivariate imaging data. Second, we discuss explanations related to the multidimensional nature of task preparation itself. Specifically, the precise localization and the size of switch-related preparatory activation might depend on the differential interplay of hierarchical control via abstract task goals and attentional versus action-directed preparatory processes. We argue that different preparatory modes can be adopted relying either on advance goal activation alone or on the advance resolution of competition within action sets or attentional sets. Importantly, while either mode can result in a reduction of behavioral switch cost, only the latter two are supposed to be associated with enhanced switch versus repeat BOLD activation in prepared trial conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-35
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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