Decoding cognitive control in human parietal cortex

Efficient execution of perceptual-motor tasks requires rapid voluntary reconfiguration of cognitive task sets as circumstances unfold. Such acts of cognitive control, which are thought to rely on a network of cortical regions in prefrontal and posterior parietal cortex, include voluntary shifts of attention among perceptual inputs or among memory representations, or switches between categorization or stimulus-response mapping rules. A critical unanswered question is whether task set shifts in these different domains are controlled by a common, domain-independent mechanism or by separate, domain-specific mechanisms. Recent studies have implicated a common region of medial superior parietal lobule (mSPL) as a domain-independent source of cognitive control during shifts between perceptual, mnemonic, and rule representations. Here, we use fMRI and event-related multivoxel pattern classification to show that spatial patterns of brain activity within mSPL reliably express which of several domains of cognitive control is at play on a moment-by-moment basis. Critically, these spatiotemporal brain patterns are stable over time within subjects tested several months apart and across a variety of tasks, including shifting visuospatial attention, switching categorization rules, and shifting attention in working memory.