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Disentangling the neural correlates of semantic and domain-general control: The roles of stimulus domain and task process
Jackson, R., Hodgson, V., LAMBON RALPH, M.
Imaging Neuroscience, Vol 2, February 2024
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Control processes are critical for the context-appropriate use of meaningful stimuli. Similar definitions have been adopted in two distinct literatures focusing on identifying the neural correlates of “semantic control” and of executive control across domains (the “multiple demand network”). Surprisingly, despite their proposed functions varying only in relation to domain-specificity, these networks appear to differ anatomically. However, prior comparisons are confounded by variations in task design. To what extent might varying task requirements drive differences in activation patterns that are typically attributed to stimulus domain? Here, for the first time, we use functional MRI to disentangle the effects of task process and stimulus domain during cognitively demanding tasks. Participants performed an odd-one-out task requiring rule-switching, inhibition and selection processes, and an n-back working memory task, each with meaningful semantic and non-semantic stimuli, in a factorial design. Both stimulus domain and task process affected the control regions activated, indicating that task process is indeed a key factor confounding prior studies. However, core semantic control regions (left inferior frontal gyrus, left posterior temporal cortex) also showed a preference for semantic stimuli even with matched task processes, while more peripheral semantic control regions, overlapping the multiple demand network (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, right inferior frontal gyrus), showed little preference across task or stimulus. Conversely, most multiple demand network regions were preferentially engaged for non-semantic stimuli. These results highlight the mutual importance of stimulus domain and task process in driving variation in control region engagement, both across and between semantic control and multiple demand networks.