Reasoning about counterintuitive concepts in science and math is thought to require suppressing naive theories, prior knowledge, or misleading perceptual cues through inhibitory control. Neuroimaging research has shown recruitment of pFC regions during counterintuitive reasoning, which has been interpreted as evidence of inhibitory control processes. However, the results are inconsistent across studies and have not been directly compared with behavior or brain activity during inhibitory control tasks. In this fMRI study, 34 adolescents (aged 11–15 years) answered science and math problems and completed response inhibition tasks (simple and complex go/no-go) and an interference control task (numerical Stroop). Increased BOLD signal was observed in parietal (Brodmann's area 40) and prefrontal (Brodmann's area 8, 45/47) cortex regions in counterintuitive problems compared with control problems, where no counterintuitive reasoning was required, and in two parietal clusters when comparing correct counterintuitive reasoning to giving the incorrect intuitive response. There was partial overlap between increases in BOLD signal in the complex response inhibition and interference control tasks and the science and math contrasts. However, multivariate analyses suggested overlapping neural substrates in the parietal cortex only, in regions typically associated with working memory and visuospatial attentional demands rather than specific to inhibitory control. These results highlight the importance of using localizer tasks and a range of analytic approach to investigate to what extent common neural networks underlie performance of different cognitive tasks and suggests visuospatial attentional skills may support counterintuitive reasoning in science and math.

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