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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02310

Context-dependence and context-invariance in the neural coding of intentional action

  • 1Ghent University, Belgium

Maintaining intentions over time is fundamental to goal-directed action, and previous research demonstrated that intentions are encoded and maintained in a fronto-parietal network including e.g. the dlPFC and IPS. Yet, intention maintenance is highly challenging in the constantly changing environments we experience every day. While we might have formed an intention under specific conditions, this context can change rapidly and unexpectedly. Some suggested that intentions representations in the fronto-parietal cortex change flexibly when external demands change (context-dependent coding). Others suggested that these representations are encoded in an abstract format that is not affected by changes in external demands (context-invariant coding). Here, I will first outline an analysis approach using multivariate pattern analysis of fMRI data to comprehensively assess the context-dependence / invariance of intention representations in the fronto-parietal cortex. I will then highlight some research following the proposed analysis strategy. Results to date are mixed, showing context-dependence in some, but context-invariance in other cases. In an attempt to synthesize these somewhat divergent results, I will argue that depending on characteristics of the intentions as well as the environment, intentions can either be encoded in a context-dependent or a context-invariant format. This enables us to achieve both stability and flexibility of behavior under constantly changing external demands.

Keywords: intentional action, Volition, goal-directed action, fMRI, MVPA, parietal cortex, Prefrontal Cortex, context

Received: 25 Jul 2018; Accepted: 05 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Sebo Uithol, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Valerio Santangelo, University of Perugia, Italy
Laura Zapparoli, Istituto Ortopedico Galeazzi (IRCCS), Italy  

Copyright: © 2018 Wisniewski. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. David Wisniewski, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium,