The effects of a mid-task break on the brain connectome in healthy participants: A resting-state functional MRI study

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Abstract

Although rest breaks are commonly administered as a countermeasure to reduce mental fatigue and boost cognitive performance, the effects of taking a break on behavior are not consistent. Moreover, our understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms of rest breaks and how they modulate mental fatigue is still rudimentary. In this study, we investigated the effects of receiving a rest break on the topological properties of brain connectivity networks via a two-session experimental paradigm, in which one session comprised four successive blocks of a mentally demanding visual selective attention task (No-rest session), whereas the other contained a rest break between the second and third task blocks (Rest session). Functional brain networks were constructed using resting-state functional MRI data recorded from 20 healthy adults before and after the performance of the task blocks. Behaviorally, subjects displayed robust time-on-task (TOT) declines, as reflected by increasingly slower reaction time as the test progressed and lower post-task self-reported ratings of engagement. However, we did not find a significant effect on task performance due to administering a mid-task break. Compared to pre-task measurements, post-task functional brain networks demonstrated an overall decrease of optimal small-world properties together with lower global efficiency. Specifically, we found TOT-related reduced nodal efficiency in brain regions that mainly resided in the subcortical areas. More interestingly, a significant block-by-session interaction was revealed in local efficiency, attributing to a significant post-task decline in No-rest session and a preserved local efficiency when a mid-task break opportunity was introduced in the Rest session. Taken together, these findings augment our understanding of how the resting brain reorganizes following the accumulation of prolonged task, suggest dissociable processes between the neural mechanisms of fatigue and recovery, and provide some of the first quantitative insights into the cognitive neuroscience of work and rest.

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