BACKGROUND: Linking individual task performance to preceding, regional brain activation is an ongoing goal of neuroscientific research. Recently, it could be shown that the activation and connectivity within large-scale brain networks prior to task onset influence performance levels. More specifically, prestimulus default mode network (DMN) effects have been linked to performance levels in sensory near-threshold tasks, as well as cognitive tasks. However, it still remains uncertain how the DMN state preceding cognitive tasks affects performance levels when the period between task trials is long and flexible, allowing participants to engage in different cognitive states.
METHODS: We here investigated whether the prestimulus activation and within-network connectivity of the DMN are predictive of the correctness and speed of task performance levels on a cognitive (match-to-sample) mental rotation task, employing a sparse event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) design.
RESULTS: We found that prestimulus activation in the DMN predicted the speed of correct trials, with a higher amplitude preceding correct fast response trials compared to correct slow response trials. Moreover, we found higher connectivity within the DMN before incorrect trials compared to correct trials.
CONCLUSION: These results indicate that pre-existing activation and connectivity states within the DMN influence task performance on cognitive tasks, both effecting the correctness and speed of task execution. The findings support existing theories and empirical work on relating mind-wandering and cognitive task performance to the DMN and expand these by establishing a relationship between the prestimulus DMN state and the speed of cognitive task performance.