Investment of cognitive effort is required in everyday life and has received ample attention in recent neurocognitive frameworks. The neural mechanism of effort investment is thought to be structured hierarchically, with dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) at the highest level, recruiting task-specific upstream areas. In the current fMRI study, we tested whether dACC is generally active when effort demand is high across tasks with different stimuli, and whether connectivity between dACC and task-specific areas is increased depending on the task requirements and effort level at hand. For that purpose, a perceptual detection task was administered that required male and female human participants to detect either a face or a house in a noisy image. Effort demand was manipulated by adding little (low effort) or much (high effort) noise to the images. Results showed a network of dACC, anterior insula (AI), and intraparietal sulcus (IPS) to be more active when effort demand was high, independent of the performed task (face or house detection). Importantly, effort demand modulated functional connectivity between dACC and face-responsive or house-responsive perceptual areas, depending on the task at hand. This shows that dACC, AI, and IPS constitute a general effort-responsive network and suggests that the neural implementation of cognitive effort involves dACC-initiated sensitization of task-relevant areas.
Aben, B., Buc Calderon, C., Van den Bussche, E., & Verguts, T. (2020). Cognitive Effort Modulates Connectivity between Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Task-Relevant Cortical Areas. Journal Of Neuroscience, 40, 3838-3848. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2948-19.2020