Neural interactions mediating conflict control and its training-induced plasticity

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Cognitive control is of great plasticity. Training programs targeted on improving it have been suggested to yield neural changes in the brain. However, until recently, the relationship between training-induced brain changes and improvements in cognitive control is still an open issue. Besides, although the literature has attributed the operation of cognitive control to interactions between large-scale networks, the neural pathways directly associated with it remain unclear. The current study aimed to examine these issues by focusing on conflict processing. In particular, we employed a training program with a randomized controlled design. The main findings were as follows: 1) In behavior, the training group showed reduced conflict effect after training, relative to the control group; 2) In the pretest stage, the behavioral conflict effect was negatively correlated with a number of neural pathways, including the connectivity from the cingulo-opercular network (CON) to the cerebellum and to sub-regions of the dorsal visual network; 3) increase in the connectivity strength of several network interactions, such as the connectivity from the CON to the cerebellum and to the primary visual network, was associated with behavioral gains; 4) there were also nonlinear correlations between behavioral and neural changes. These findings highlighted a critical role of the modulation of CON on other networks in mediating conflict processing and its plasticity, and raised the significance of investigating nonlinear relationship in the field of cognitive training.HighlightsWe study neural substrates of conflict control and its plasticity.Modulation of the CON on other networks mediates conflict control proficiency.Enhanced top-down and bottom-up processes contribute to reduced conflict.There are nonlinear correlations between behavioral and neural changes.

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