Coding of visual, auditory, rule, and response information in the brain: 10 years of multivoxel pattern analysis

Alexandra Woolgar*, Jade Jackson, John Duncan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


How is the processing of task information organized in the brain? Many views of brain function emphasize modularity, with different regions specialized for processing different types of information. However, recent accounts also highlight flexibility, pointing especially to the highly consistent pattern of frontoparietal activation across many tasks. Although early insights from functional imaging were based on overall activation levels during different cognitive operations, in the last decade many researchers have used multivoxel pattern analyses to interrogate the representational content of activations, mapping out the brain regions that make particular stimulus, rule, or response distinctions. Here, we drew on 100 searchlight decoding analyses from 57 published papers to characterize the information coded in different brain networks. The outcome was highly structured. Visual, auditory, and motor networks predominantly (but not exclusively) coded visual, auditory, and motor information, respectively. By contrast, the frontoparietal multiple-demand network was characterized by domain generality, coding visual, auditory, motor, and rule information. The contribution of the default mode network and voxels elsewhere was minor. The data suggest a balanced picture of brain organization in which sensory and motor networks are relatively specialized for information in their own domain, whereas a specific frontoparietal network acts as a domain-general “core” with the capacity to code many different aspects of a task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1433-1454
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

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Copyright the Publisher 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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