A tweaking principle for executive control: neuronal circuit mechanism for rule-based task switching and conflict resolution


A hallmark of executive control is the brain’s agility to shift between different tasks depending on the behavioral rule currently in play. In this work, we propose a “tweaking hypothesis” for task switching: a weak rule signal provides a small bias that is dramatically amplified by reverberating attractor dynamics in neural circuits for stimulus categorization and action selection, leading to an all-or-none reconfiguration of sensory-motor mapping. Based on this principle, we developed a biologically realistic model with multiple modules for task switching. We found that the model quantitatively accounts for complex task switching behavior: switch cost, congruency effect, and task-response interaction; as well as monkey’s single-neuron activity associated with task switching. The model yields several testable predictions, in particular, that category-selective neurons play a key role in resolving sensory-motor conflict. This work represents a neural circuit model for task switching and sheds insights in the brain mechanism of a fundamental cognitive capability.

Journal of Neuroscience