Reward boosts neural coding of task rules to optimise cognitive flexibility
Hall-McMaster S., MUHLE-KARBE P., MYERS N., STOKES M.
Cognitive flexibility is critical for intelligent behavior. However, its execution is effortful and often suboptimal. Recent work indicates that flexible behavior can be improved by the prospect of reward, which suggests that rewards optimize flexible control processes. Here we investigated how different reward prospects influence neural encoding of task rule information to optimize cognitive flexibility. We applied representational similarity analysis to human electroencephalograms, recorded while female and male participants performed a rule-guided decision-making task. During the task, the prospect of reward varied from trial to trial. Participants made faster, more accurate judgements on high-reward trials. Critically, high reward boosted neural coding of the active task rule, and the extent of this increase was associated with improvements in task performance. Additionally, the effect of high reward on task rule coding was most pronounced on switch trials, where rules were updated relative to the previous trial. These results suggest that reward prospect can promote cognitive performance by strengthening neural coding of task rule information, helping to improve cognitive flexibility during complex behavior.