Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
In everyday life, we have to selectively adapt our behavior to different situations and tasks. In cognitive psychology, such adaptive behavior can be investigated with the task-switching paradigm. However, in contrast to everyday life, in experiments participants are unequivocally told which task to perform. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was set out to investigate processes that are relevant when participants can decide by their own which task to perform. The number of tasks to choose from was varied between a forced condition (no choice) and two voluntary selection conditions (two or three choices). We expected to find prolonged reaction times as well as higher activations within the midcingulate cortex for the choice conditions compared to the no-choice condition. The fMRI results revealed a significant activation difference for the choice conditions versus the no-choice condition. For the choice contrast, activation was found in the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) as well as the superior parietal lobule and the posterior part of the intraparietal sulcus. These activations revealed no selection-specific difference between three and two choices. Finally, a post hoc analysis showed that the activation in the RCZ is not associated with higher task-dependent response conflict when participants can select a task set. Taken together, these findings indicate that distinct brain areas are involved in the voluntary selection of abstract task set information.