Task modulates functional connectivity networks in free viewing behavior

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In free visual exploration, eye-movement is immediately followed by dynamic reconfiguration of brain functional connectivity. We studied the task-dependency of this process in a combined visual search-change detection experiment. Participants viewed two (nearly) same displays in succession. First time they had to find and remember multiple targets among distractors, so the ongoing task involved memory encoding. Second time they had to determine if a target had changed in orientation, so the ongoing task involved memory retrieval. From multichannel EEG recorded during 200 ms intervals time-locked to fixation onsets, we estimated the functional connectivity using a weighted phase lag index at the frequencies of theta, alpha, and beta bands, and derived global and local measures of the functional connectivity graphs. We found differences between both memory task conditions for several network measures, such as mean path length, radius, diameter, closeness and eccentricity, mainly in the alpha band. Both the local and the global measures indicated that encoding involved a more segregated mode of operation than retrieval. These differences arose immediately after fixation onset and persisted for the entire duration of the lambda complex, an evoked potential commonly associated with early visual perception. We concluded that encoding and retrieval differentially shape network configurations involved in early visual perception, affecting the way the visual input is processed at each fixation. These findings demonstrate that task requirements dynamically control the functional connectivity networks involved in early visual perception.

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