Neocortical activity varies between states of "synchronization" and "desynchronization", with desynchronized states believed to occur specifically in regions engaged by the task. To disambiguate whether desynchronization is linked to task performance or engagement, we trained mice on tasks in which incorrect responses due to disengagement (neglect) differed from inaccurate task performance (incorrect choices). Using widefield calcium imaging to measure cortical state across many areas simultaneously, we found that desynchronization was correlated with engagement rather than accuracy. Consistent with this link between desynchronization and engagement, we found that rewards had a long-lasting desynchronizing effect. To determine whether engagement-related changes in cortical state depended on the sensory modality, we trained mice on visual and auditory task versions and found that desynchronization was similar in both and more pronounced in somatomotor than either sensory cortex. We conclude that variations in cortical state are predominately global and closely relate to variations in task engagement.
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