Topographical differences of frontal-midline theta activity reflect functional differences in cognitive control abilities

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Electrophysiological oscillations are assumed to be the core mechanism for large-scale network communication. The specific role of frontal-midline theta oscillations as cognitive control mechanism is under debate. According to the dual mechanisms of control framework, cognitive control processes can be divided into proactive and reactive control. The present study aimed at investigating the role of frontal-midline theta activity by assessing oscillations in two tasks varying in the type of cognitive control needed. More specifically, a delayed match to sample (DMTS) task requiring proactive control and a color Stroop task recruiting reactive control processes were conducted within the same group of participants. Moreover, both tasks contained conditions with low and high need for cognitive control. As expected larger frontal-midline theta activity was found in conditions with high need for cognitive control. However, theta activity was focally activated at frontal sites in the DMTS task whereas it had a broader topographical distribution in the Stroop task, indicating that both proactive and reactive control are reflected in frontal-midline theta activity but reactive control is additionally characterized by a broader theta activation. These findings support the conclusion that frontal-midline theta acts functionally different depending on task requirements.

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