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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

January 2011, Vol. 23, No. 1, Pages 168-182
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21439)
© 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Assembly and Use of New Task Rules in Fronto-parietal Cortex
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Severe capacity limits, closely associated with fluid intelligence, arise in learning and use of new task rules. We used fMRI to investigate these limits in a series of multirule tasks involving different stimuli, rules, and response keys. Data were analyzed both during presentation of instructions and during later task execution. Between tasks, we manipulated the number of rules specified in task instructions, and within tasks, we manipulated the number of rules operative in each trial block. Replicating previous results, rule failures were strongly predicted by fluid intelligence and increased with the number of operative rules. In fMRI data, analyses of the instruction period showed that the bilateral inferior frontal sulcus, intraparietal sulcus, and presupplementary motor area were phasically active with presentation of each new rule. In a broader range of frontal and parietal regions, baseline activity gradually increased as successive rules were instructed. During task performance, we observed contrasting fronto-parietal patterns of sustained (block-related) and transient (trial-related) activity. Block, but not trial, activity showed effects of task complexity. We suggest that, as a new task is learned, a fronto-parietal representation of relevant rules and facts is assembled for future control of behavior. Capacity limits in learning and executing new rules, and their association with fluid intelligence, may be mediated by this load-sensitive fronto-parietal network.