The functional neuroanatomy of multitasking: Combining dual tasking with a short term memory task

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Abstract

Insight into the neural architecture of multitasking is crucial when investigating the pathophysiology of multitasking deficits in clinical populations. Presently, little is known about how the brain combines dual-tasking with a concurrent short-term memory task, despite the relevance of this mental operation in daily life and the frequency of complaints related to this process, in disease. In this study we aimed to examine how the brain responds when a memory task is added to dual-tasking. Thirty-three right-handed healthy volunteers (20 females, mean age 39.9±5.8) were examined with functional brain imaging (fMRI). The paradigm consisted of two cross-modal single tasks (a visual and auditory temporal same-different task with short delay), a dual-task combining both single tasks simultaneously and a multi-task condition, combining the dual-task with an additional short-term memory task (temporal same-different visual task with long delay). Dual-tasking compared to both individual visual and auditory single tasks activated a predominantly right-sided fronto-parietal network and the cerebellum. When adding the additional short-term memory task, a larger and more bilateral frontoparietal network was recruited. We found enhanced activity during multitasking in components of the network that were already involved in dual-tasking, suggesting increased working memory demands, as well as recruitment of multitask-specific components including areas that are likely to be involved in online holding of visual stimuli in short-term memory such as occipito-temporal cortex. These results confirm concurrent neural processing of a visual short-term memory task during dual-tasking and provide evidence for an effective fMRI multitasking paradigm.

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