Brain’s Flexible Hub Network Helps Humans Adapt

Background diagram shows 264 brain regions in the human brain color coded by network affiliation. Center sphere shows networks labeled with their potential functions; lines indicate how much inter-network communication changes across dozens of tasks, with especially dramatic changes in bold. (Credit: Michael Cole/WUSTL)

One thing that sets humans apart from other animals is our ability to intelligently and rapidly adapt to a wide variety of new challenges — using skills learned in much different contexts to inform and guide the handling of any new task at hand. Now, research from Washington University in St. Louis offers new and compelling evidence that a well-connected core brain network based in the lateral prefrontal cortex and the posterior parietal cortex contains “flexible hubs” that coordinate the brain’s responses to novel cognitive challenges.

Acting as a central switching station for cognitive processing, this fronto-parietal brain network funnels incoming task instructions to those brain regions most adept at handling the cognitive task at hand, coordinating the transfer of information among processing brain regions to facilitate the rapid learning of new skills, the study finds.

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