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Overlapping and dissociable brain activations for fluid intelligence and executive functions

https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-021-00870-4

Abstract

Cognitive enhancement interventions aimed at boosting human fluid intelligence (gf) have targeted executive functions (EFs), such as updating, inhibition, and switching, in the context of transfer-inducing cognitive training. However, even though the link between EFs and gf has been demonstrated at the psychometric level, their neurofunctional overlap has not been quantitatively investigated. Identifying whether and how EFs and gf might share neural activation patterns could provide important insights into the overall hierarchical organization of human higher-order cognition, as well as suggest specific targets for interventions aimed at maximizing cognitive transfer. We present the results of a quantitative meta-analysis of the available fMRI and PET literature on EFs and gf in humans, showing the similarity between gf and (i) the overall global EF network, as well as (ii) specific maps for updating, switching, and inhibition. Results highlight a higher degree of similarity between gf and updating (80% overlap) compared with gf and inhibition (34%), and gf and switching (17%). Moreover, three brain regions activated for both gf and each of the three EFs also were identified, located in the left middle frontal gyrus, left inferior parietal lobule, and anterior cingulate cortex. Finally, resting-state functional connectivity analysis on two independent fMRI datasets showed the preferential behavioural correlation and anatomical overlap between updating and gf. These findings confirm a close link between gf and EFs, with implications for brain stimulation and cognitive training interventions.

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