Expectations impact short-term memory through changes in connectivity between attention- and task-related brain regions.
Sinke C., Forkmann K., Schmidt K., Wiech K., Bingel U.
Over the recent years, neuroimaging studies have investigated the neural mechanisms underlying the influence of expectations on perception. However, it seems equally reasonable to assume that expectations impact cognitive functions. Here we used fMRI to explore the role of expectations on task performance and its underlying neural mechanisms. 43 healthy participants were randomly assigned to two groups. Using verbal instructions, group 1 was led to believe that pain enhances task performance while group 2 was instructed that pain hampers their performance. All participants performed a Rapid-Serial-Visual-Presentation (RSVP) Task (target detection and short-term memory component) with or without concomitant painful heat stimulation during 3T fMRI scanning. As hypothesized, short-term memory performance showed an interaction between painful stimulation and expectation. Positive expectations induced stronger neural activation in the right inferior parietal cortex (IPC) during painful stimulation than negative expectation. Moreover, IPC displayed differential functional coupling with the left inferior occipital cortex under pain as a function of expectancy. Our data show that an individual's expectation can influence cognitive performance in a visual short-term memory task which is associated with activity and connectivity changes in brain areas implicated in attentional processing and task performance.