Encoding, preparation and implementation of novel complex verbal instructions

Abstract

Verbal instructions allow humans to acquire and implement complex novel rules in few seconds. A major question that remains elusive is how the brain represents this information prior to successful task execution. In this experiment, we studied the brain regions involved in representing categorical stimulus information during the encoding of novel instructions, their preparation and also their implementation, as well as the relation of the fidelity of these representations to observable behavior. To do so, we devised a novel instructions paradigm to delimitate these three stages. Using univariate and multivariate analyses of functional magnetic resonance data, our study revealed that the semantic content (faces or letters) of complex novel instructions can be decoded several seconds before the onset of a target, as soon as instructions are encoded. Crucially, the quality of the information represented in domain-general and category-selective regions correlated with subsequent behavioral performance. This suggests that the rapid transformation of novel instructions into coherent behavior is supported by control mechanisms that use available, relevant information about the current rule prior to its execution. In addition, our results highlight the relation between these control processes and others such as prospective memory and maintenance of future intentions.

Publication
NeuroImage, 148, 64-273

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