Preparing for hard times: scalp and intracranial physiological signatures of proactive cognitive control

Esther De Loof, Eliana Vassena, Clio Janssens, Leen De Taeye, Alfred Meurs, Dirk Van Roost, Paul Boon, Robrecht Raedt, Tom Verguts (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Based on reward and difficulty information, people can strategically adjust proactive cognitive control. fMRI research shows that motivated proactive control is implemented through fronto-parietal control networks that are triggered by reward and difficulty cues. Here, we investigate electrophysiological signatures of proactive control. Previously, the contingent negative variation (CNV) in the ERPs and oscillatory power in the theta (4–8 Hz) and alpha band (8–14 Hz) have been suggested as signatures of control implementation. However, experimental designs did not always separate control implementation from motor preparation. Critically, we used a mental calculation task to investigate effects of proactive control implementation on the CNV and on theta and alpha power, in absence of motor preparation. In the period leading up to task onset, we found a more negative CNV, increased theta power, and decreased alpha power for hard versus easy calculations, showing increased proactive control implementation when a difficult task was expected. These three measures also correlated with behavioral performance, both across trials and across subjects. In addition to scalp EEG in healthy participants, we collected intracranial local field potential recordings in an epilepsy patient. We observed a slow-drift component that was more pronounced for hard trials in a hippocampal location, possibly reflecting task-specific preparation for hard mental calculations. The current study thus shows that difficulty information triggers proactive control in absence of motor preparation and elucidates its neurophysiological signatures.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13417
Number of pages14
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • alpha rhythm
  • attention
  • cognitive control
  • EEG
  • motivation
  • oscillation/time frequency analyses


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