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Paper   IPM / Cognitive Sciences / 16094
School of Cognitive Sciences
  Title:   Brain network dynamics during spontaneous strategy shifts and incremental task optimization
  Author(s): 
1.  m. Allegra
2.  S. Seyed-Allaei
3.  N. Schuck
4.  D. Amati
5.  A. Laio
6.  C. Reverberi
  Status:   Published
  Journal: NeuroImage
  Year:  2020
  Pages:   1-45
  Supported by:  IPM
  Abstract:
With practice, humans improve their performance in a task by either optimizing a known strategy or discovering a novel, potentially more fruitful strategy. We investigated the neural processes underlying these two fundamental abilities by applying fMRI in a task with two possible alternative strategies. For analysis we combined time-resolved network analysis with Coherence Density Peak Clustering (Allegra et al., 2017), univariate GLM, and multivariate pattern classification. Converging evidence showed that the posterior portion of the default network, i.e. the precuneus and the angular gyrus bilaterally, has a central role in the optimization of the current strategy. These regions encoded the relevant spatial information, increased the strength of local connectivity as well as the long-distance connectivity with other relevant regions in the brain (e.g., visual cortex, dorsal attention network). The connectivity increase was proportional to performance optimization. By contrast, the anterior portion of the default network (i.e. medial prefrontal cortex) and the rostral portion of the fronto-parietal network were associated with new strategy discovery: an early increase of local and long-range connectivity centered on these regions was only observed in the subjects who would later shift to a new strategy. Overall, our findings shed light on the dynamic interactions between regions related to attention and with cognitive control, underlying the balance between strategy exploration and exploitation. Results suggest that the default network, far from being “shut-down” during task performance, has a pivotal role in the background exploration and monitoring of potential alternative courses of action.

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