Subjects switched between tasks that rely on separable "low-level" neural circuits, a motion and a color task. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we assessed anticipatory processes within these circuits during preparation to switch between tasks. Once the switch was made, we could then compare activation levels within the circuit associated with the newly relevant task to continuing activity in the circuit associated with the irrelevant task, allowing us to assess both the effectiveness of anticipatory switching mechanisms and the subsequent competition between alternative stimulus-response contingencies. Subjects prepared effectively for the color task, being equally fast and accurate on switch trials as on repeat trials, and this successful preparation was associated with robust preparatory activity within well-known color-processing regions. In contrast, subjects showed considerable behavioral costs when switching to the motion task, evincing a lack of effective preparation, borne out by the fact that motion circuits were silent during the preparatory period.
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