Cognitive control is engaged to facilitate stimulus–response mappings for novel, complex tasks and supervise performance in unfamiliar, challenging contexts—processes supported by pFC, ACC, and posterior parietal cortex. With repeated task practice, however, the appropriate task set can be selected in a more automatic fashion with less need for top–down cognitive control and weaker activation in these brain regions. One model system for investigating cognitive control is the ocular motor circuitry underlying saccade production, with basic prosaccade trials (look toward a stimulus) and complex antisaccade trials (look to the mirror image location) representing low and high levels of cognitive control, respectively. Previous studies have shown behavioral improvements on saccade tasks after practice with contradictory results regarding the direction of functional MRI BOLD signal change. The current study presented healthy young adults with prosaccade and antisaccade trials in five mixed blocks with varying probability of each trial type (0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% anti vs. pro) at baseline and posttest MRI sessions. Between the scans, participants practiced either the specific probability blocks used during testing or only a general 100% antisaccade block. Results indicated an overall reduction in BOLD activation within pFC, ACC, and posterior parietal cortex and across saccade circuitry for antisaccade trials. The specific practice group showed additional regions including ACC, insula, and thalamus with an activation decrease after practice, whereas the general practice group showed a little change from baseline in those clusters. These findings demonstrate that cognitive control regions recruited to support novel task behaviors were engaged less after practice, especially with exposure to mixed task contexts rather than a novel task in isolation.

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