Same task, different strategies: how brain networks can be influenced by memory strategy.
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Previous functional neuroimaging studies demonstrated that different neural networks underlie different types of cognitive processing by engaging participants in particular tasks, such as verbal or spatial working memory (WM) tasks. However, we report here that even when a WM task is defined as verbal or spatial, different types of memory strategies may be used to complete it, with concomitant variations in brain activity. We developed a questionnaire to characterize the type of strategy used by individual members in a group of 28 young healthy participants (18-25 years) during a spatial WM task. A cluster analysis was performed to differentiate groups. We acquired functional magnetoencephalography and structural diffusion tensor imaging measures to characterize the brain networks associated with the use of different strategies. We found two types of strategies were used during the spatial WM task, a visuospatial and a verbal strategy, and brain regions and time courses of activation differed between participants who used each. Task performance also varied by type of strategy used with verbal strategies showing an advantage. In addition, performance on neuropsychological tests (indices from Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV, Rey Complex Figure Test) correlated significantly with fractional anisotropy measures for the visuospatial strategy group in white matter tracts implicated in other WM and attention studies. We conclude that differences in memory strategy can have a pronounced effect on the locations and timing of brain activation and that these differences need further investigation as a possible confounding factor for studies using group averaging as a means for summarizing results.Copyright © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.