Neurobehavioral mechanisms of shielding and shifting of intentions

In the first funding period, we combined fMRI and multivariate decoding to study the neural basis of intention representations. We compared neural representations of freely chosen vs. instructed tasks, and the mechanisms with which they are shielded. We found that (1) Cued and self-chosen intentions are maintained in frontoparietal cortex using a similar spatial code; (2) Under semi-free conditions (i.e., a task is self-chosen but external constraints have to be considered) its representation was identified predominantly in medial PFC; (3) If intentions in prospective memory (PM) are in conflict with an ongoing task they are represented more anteriorly in PFC than without conflict; (4) Complex task-reward associations are encoded in parietal cortex, rather than in medial prefrontal regions or the basal ganglia. In the second funding period, we plan to continue our work on shielding of intentions against conflicting demands. We will combine neuroimaging of task representations and task conflict (Haynes, Goschke) with behavioral work on conflict and intention aftereffects conducted by two of us (Walser, Goschke). This showed that completed intentions still affect subsequent tasks, thus providing an opportunity to study conflict between task periods. In two neuroimaging experiments we plan to study how conflict affects the neural representation of ongoing tasks, as well as the representation of task-related cues. This allows to test if task shielding involves a bottom-up neural down-regulation of the sensitivity to conflicting sensory information. Then, we will conduct two behavioral and two neuroimaging studies on the mechanisms of intention deactivation, i.e. whether the carry-over after intention completion takes the form of an explicit inhibition or of a persistent activation. Imaging experiments will employ a combination of classification and connectivity techniques. Three further behavioral experiments will focus on modulators of intention aftereffects, such as the interplay of PM task shielding and aftereffects, and the roles of cognitive control and acute stress for intention shielding and deactivation processes. In sum, project A1 will shed light on the cognitive and neural mechanisms of conflict and task shielding.

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