Abstract

The functional relevance of the lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) for the ability to process two tasks simultaneously has been debated extensively in previous studies that employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of dual-task processing. In the present fMRI study, we shed new light on this debate by directly comparing the lPFC activity changes for two cognitive functions commonly associated with dual-task performance: task order control and task set maintenance. We manipulated both functions in a 2 × 2 integrated parametric design. The fMRI data revealed a functional-neuroanatomical dissociation for the lPFC. Regions surrounding the inferior frontal sulcus and the middle frontal gyrus were exclusively associated with task order control but not with increased demands on task set maintenance during dual-task processing. The only lPFC region associated with task set maintenance was located in the left anterior insula. Outside the lPFC, we found dissociable regions for task order control and task set maintenance bilaterally in the premotor cortices with more rostral premotor activity for task order control and more caudal premotor activity for task set maintenance. In addition, task order control activated the intraparietal sulci bilaterally. Our data clearly suggest that task order control is a separable cognitive mechanism in dual-task situations that is related to activity changes in the lPFC and that can be dissociated from task set maintenance.

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