Frontoparietal action-oriented codes support novel task set implementation.


A key aspect of human cognitive flexibility concerns the ability to rapidly convert complex symbolic instructions into novel behaviors. Previous research proposes that this fast configuration is supported by two differentiated neurocognitive states, namely, an initial declarative maintenance of task knowledge, and a progressive transformation into a pragmatic, action-oriented state necessary for optimal task execution. Furthermore, current models predict a crucial role of frontal and parietal brain regions in this transformation. However, direct evidence for such frontoparietal formatting of novel task representations is still lacking. Here, we report the results of an fMRI experiment in which participants had to execute novel instructed stimulus-response associations. We then used a multivariate pattern-tracking procedure to quantify the degree of neural activation of instructions in declarative and procedural representational formats. This analysis revealed, for the first time, format-unique representations of relevant task sets in frontoparietal areas, prior to execution. Critically, the degree of procedural (but not declarative) activation predicted subsequent behavioral performance. Our results shed light on current debates on the architecture of cognitive control and working memory systems, suggesting a contribution of frontoparietal regions to output gating mechanisms that drive behavior.