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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Common executive functioning (cEF) is a domain-general factor that captures shared variance in performance across diverse executive function tasks. To investigate the neural mechanisms of individual differences in cEF (e.g., goal maintenance, biasing), we conducted the largest fMRI study of multiple executive tasks to date (N = 546). Group average activation during response inhibition (antisaccade task), working memory updating (keep track task), and mental set shifting (number–letter switch task) overlapped in classic cognitive control regions. However, there were no areas across tasks that were consistently correlated with individual differences in cEF ability. Although similar brain areas are recruited when completing different executive function tasks, activation levels of those areas are not consistently associated with better performance. This pattern is inconsistent with a simple model in which higher cEF is associated with greater or less activation of a set of control regions across different task contexts; however, it is potentially consistent with a model in which individual differences in cEF primarily depend on activation of domain-specific targets of executive function. Brain features that explain commonalities in executive function performance across tasks remain to be discovered.



Original Citation

Andrew E. Reineberg, Marie T. Banich, Tor D. Wager, Naomi P. Friedman, Context-specific activations are a hallmark of the neural basis of individual differences in general executive function, NeuroImage, Volume 249, 2022,