Brain Mechanisms of Cognitive Skills

Consciousness and Cognition 6 (2-3):267-290 (1997)
Abstract
This article examines the anatomy and circuitry of skills that, like reading, calculating, recognizing, or remembering, are common abilities of humans. While the anatomical areas active are unique to each skill there are features common to all tasks. For example, all skills produce activation of a small number of widely separated neural areas that appear necessary to perform the task. These neural areas relate to internal codes that may not be observed by any external behavior nor be reportable by the performer. There is considerable plasticity to the performance of skills. Task components can be given priority through attention, which serves to increase activation of the relevant brain areas. Attention can also cause reactivation of sensory areas driven by input, but usually only after a delay. The threshold for activation for any area may be temporarily reduced by prior activation . Skill components requiring attention tend to cause interference resulting in the dual tasks effects and unified focus of attention described in many cognitive studies. Practice may change the size or number of brain areas involved and alter the pathways used by the skill. By combining cognitive and anatomical analyses, a more general picture of the nature of skill emerges
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