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LEX-MEA Report Summary

Project ID: 313692
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Italy

Final Report Summary - LEX-MEA (Life EXperience Modulations of Executive function Asymmetries)

The central goal of LEX-MEA proposal was to unveil which neural and experiential factors regulate high-level cognitive functions across the adult life-span. By using multi-modal neuroimaging, electrophysiological and neuropsychological approaches, we found that prefrontal hemispheric asymmetries form an important basis for two of these key functions. Specifically, we showed that the capacity to set up and flexibly select rules independently of the specific task context is mainly left-lateralized, whereas the ability to monitor and check whether these rules are being applied correctly mainly recruits right lateral prefrontal regions. Task specifics influence these lateralization patterns but do not change them substantially. Not only these asymmetries could be observed on average at the population level during task execution, but we found that they represent important priors already present at rest that then bias our performance and could explain inter-individual differences. Finally, despite undeniable genetic influences are emerging for virtually any cognitive and emotional function, our LEX-MEA project clearly demonstrated that life-experiences, such as training and experience in demanding professions such as simultaneous interpretation and air traffic control, also play an significant role in continuously shaping some these functions during adulthood. A particularly important role emerged for formal education as a protective factor against the age-related decline in cognitive flexibility when facing demanding situations, such as multi-tasking and task-switching. In conclusion, our results provide novel findings on the importance of the (often overlooked) prefrontal hemispheric asymmetries in explaining executive functions, but also on how ecological, real-life training, focused on creating skills necessary for demanding jobs and, more generally, formal education, may enhance specific cognitive control processes and contribute to high-level cognitive functioning throughout the life-span.

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