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Scale-invariance in brain activity predicts practice effects in cognitive performance

By Omid Kardan, Elliot Layden, Kyoung Whan Choe, Muxuan Lyu, Xihan Zhang, Sian L Beilock, Monica D Rosenberg, Marc G Berman

Posted 26 May 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.25.114959

Although practicing a task generally benefits later performance on that same task (practice effect), there are large, and mostly unexplained, individual differences in reaping the benefits from practice. One promising avenue to model and predict such differences comes from recent research showing that brain networks can extract functional advantages from operating in the vicinity of criticality, a state in which brain network activity is more scale-free. As such, we hypothesized that individuals with more scale-free fMRI activity, indicated by BOLD time series with a higher Hurst exponent (H), gain more benefits from practice. In this study, participants practiced a test of working memory and attention, the dual n-back task (DNB), watched a video clip as a break, and then performed the DNB again, during MRI. To isolate the practice effect, we divided the participants into two groups based on improvement in performance from the first to second DNB task run. We identified regions and connections in which H and functional connectivity related to practice effects in the last run. More scale-free brain activity in these regions during the preceding runs (either first DNB or video) distinguished individuals who showed greater DNB performance improvements over time. In comparison, functional connectivity (r2) in the identified connections did not reliably classify the two groups in the preceding runs. Finally, we replicated both H and r2 results from study 1 in an independent fMRI dataset of participants performing multiple runs of another working memory and attention task (word completion). We conclude that the brain networks can accommodate further practice effects in individuals with higher scale-free BOLD activity. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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