Activities and Seminars

Prof. Dr. Christian Fiebach. Cognitive Stability and Cognitive Flexibility: Two Sides of the Same Coin?
Date: May 07, 2014

What: Cognitive Stability and Cognitive Flexibility: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Where: BCBL auditorium

Who: Prof. Dr. Christian Fiebach. Professor for Neurocognitive Psychology, Department of Psychology, Goethe Universität Frankfurt.

When: 12 noon

Successful behavior in dynamically changing environments requires that we are able to follow our goals without being distracted, but also, if necessary, to flexibly adjust our behavior to changing environmental demands. In cognitive psychology, these two dimensions – cognitive stability and cognitive flexibility – have typically been studied independently (e.g., using working memory vs. task switching paradigms). On the other hand, computational neuroscience has proposed models in which cognitive stability and flexibility depend on different neurochemical (dopaminergic) states of identical neural systems. We took this as starting point to explore a possible antagonistic relationship between cognitive stability and cognitive flexibility. Using a newly developed behavioral paradigm, we observe that more flexible persons are more efficient in cue-based task switching, but are also more distractible when cognitive stability is required (distractor inhibition). This initial behavioral support for the assumed antagonistic relationship between cognitive flexibility and stability could, interestingly, be replicated in a different species, i.e., mice, using a translational animal version of this paradigm. Using fMRI, we found two possible neural correlates of the antagonistic relationship between flexibility and stability. While stability and flexibility activated largely overlapping cortical networks, the inferior frontal junction area (IFJ) in posterior prefrontal cortex was antagonistically coupled with other prefrontal regions during stability vs. flexibiliy. In addition, the variability of BOLD signals in IFJ was also antagonistically related to flexibility vs. stability. It will be interesting to discuss whether the emerging antagonistic model of cognitive flexibility and stability can be applied to language-related processes, e.g., language switching in bilingualism.