Neural correlates of reconfiguration failure reveal the time course of task-set reconfiguration

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Abstract

The ability to actively prepare for new tasks is crucial for achieving goal-directed behavior. The task-switching paradigm is frequently used to investigate this task-set reconfiguration. In the present study, we adopted a novel approach to identify a neural signature of reconfiguration in event-related potentials. Our method was to isolate neural correlates of reconfiguration failure and to use these correlates to reveal the time course of reconfiguration in task switches and task repetitions. We employed a task-switching paradigm in which two types of errors could be distinguished: task errors (the incorrect task was applied) and response errors (an incorrect response for the correct task was provided). Because differential activity between both error types distinguishes successful and failed reconfiguration, this activity could be used as a neural signature of the reconfiguration process. We found that, whereas reconfiguration takes place on task repetitions and task switches, it occurred earlier in the former than in the latter. Single-trial analysis revealed that the same activity predicted the amplitude of error-related brain activity, providing further support that this preparatory activity reflects reconfiguration. Our results implicate that reconfiguration is not switch-specific but that task switches and task repetitions differ with respect to the time course of reconfiguration. Furthermore, this study demonstrates that considering neural correlates of failure is a promising approach to link cognitive mechanisms to specific neural processes.

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