Intelligence is differentially related to neural effort in the task-positive and the task-negative brain network
Ulrike Basten, Christine Stelzel, & Christian J. Fiebach
Previous studies on individual differences in intelligence and brain activation during cognitive processing focused on brain regions where activation increases with task demands (task-positive network, TPN). Our study additionally considers brain regions where activation decreases with task demands (task-negative network, TNN) and compares effects of intelligence on neural effort in the TPN and the TNN. In a sample of 52 healthy subjects, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to determine changes in neural effort associated with the processing of a working memory task. The task comprised three conditions of increasing difficulty: (a) maintenance, (b) manipulation, and (c) updating of a four-letter memory set. Neural effort was defined as signal increase in the TPN and signal decrease in the TNN, respectively. In both functional networks, TPN and TNN, neural effort increased with task difficulty. However, intelligence, as assessed with Raven’s Matrices, was differentially associated with neural effort in the TPN and TNN. In the TPN, we observed a positive association, while we observed a negative association in the TNN. In terms of neural efficiency (i.e., task performance in relation to neural effort expended on task processing), more intelligent subjects (as compared to less intelligent subjects) displayed lower neural efficiency in the TPN, while they displayed higher neural efficiency in the TNN. The results illustrate the importance of differentiating between TPN and TNN when interpreting correlations between intelligence and fMRI measures of brain activation. Importantly, this implies the risk of misinterpreting whole brain correlations when ignoring the functional differences between TPN and TNN.
(h/t: Rebecca McMillan)