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Overlapping attentional networks yield divergent behavioral predictions across tasks: Neuromarkers for diffuse and focused attention?

By Esther X.W. Wu, Gwenisha J. Liaw, Rui Zhe Goh, Tiffany T.Y. Chia, Alisia M.J. Chee, Takashi Obana, Monica D. Rosenberg, B.T. Thomas Yeo, Christopher L. Asplund

Posted 24 Jul 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/713339 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116535)

Attention is a critical cognitive function, allowing humans to select, enhance, and sustain focus on information of behavioral relevance. Attention contains dissociable neural and psychological components. Nevertheless, some brain networks support multiple attentional functions. Connectome-based Predictive Models (CPM), which associate individual differences in task performance with functional connectivity patterns, provide a compelling example. A sustained attention network model (saCPM) successfully predicted performance for selective attention, inhibitory control, and reading recall tasks. Here we constructed a visual attentional blink (VAB) model (vabCPM), comparing its performance predictions and network edges associated with successful and unsuccessful behavior to the saCPM's. In the VAB, attention devoted to a target often causes a subsequent item to be missed. Although frequently attributed to attentional limitations, VAB deficits may attenuate when participants are distracted or deploy attention diffusely. Participants (n=73; 24 males) underwent fMRI while performing the VAB task and while resting. Outside the scanner, they completed other cognitive tasks over several days. A vabCPM constructed from these data successfully predicted VAB performance. Strikingly, the network edges that predicted better VAB performance (positive edges) predicted worse selective and sustained attention performance, and vice versa. Predictions from the saCPM mirrored these results, with the network's negative edges predicting better VAB performance. Furthermore, the vabCPM's positive edges significantly overlapped with the saCPM's negative edges, and vice versa. We conclude that these partially overlapping networks each have general attentional functions. They may indicate an individual's propensity to diffusely deploy attention, predicting better performance for some tasks and worse for others.

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