Dependence of the cognitive set on the involvement of the ventral and dorsal visual systems in cognitive activity

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Measures of the stability of a non-verbal visual set were compared in healthy human subjects in three series of experiments: 1) controls, in which a pair of set-forming stimuli (images of circles) were presented; 2) in the context of a test with a non-verbal set, subjects were presented with an additional task consisting of recognition of pseudowords (words); and 3) as before, but the additional task consisted of identifying the position of a target stimulus in a matrix of letters. There was a significant decrease in the stability (rigidity) of the non-verbal set on introduction of the additional task consisting of identifying the spatial position of a target stimulus; conversely, there was an increase in rigidity when the task consisted of recognizing the quality of a stimulus. Coherence analysis of cortical potentials in the alpha range showed that changes in the spatial organization of cortical electrical activity were significantly different, depending on the nature of the additional task: when the additional task involved recognition of a verbal stimulus, coherence connections were strengthened in the frontal-temporal-parietal areas of the right hemisphere; presentation in the context of a visuospatial task resulted in greater changes being observed in the anterior areas of the right hemisphere. It is suggested that the successful performance of mental functions requiring relatively rapid shifts in unconscious sets on changes in situation occurs in conditions of alternation of different types of cognitive tasks when cortical processing of visual information is mediated predominantly by one of the visual systems — either the ventral (“what?”) or the dorsal (“where?”) and, correspondingly, with the involvement of the anterior and posterior cortical selective attention systems.

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