Brain hemodynamic response in Examiner–Examinee dyads during spatial short-term memory task: an fNIRS study


The Corsi Block-Tapping test (CBT) is a measure of spatial working memory (WM) in clinical practice, requiring an examinee to reproduce sequences of cubes tapped by an examiner. CBT implies complementary behaviors in the examiners and the examinees, as they have to attend a precise turn taking. Previous studies demonstrated that the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is activated during CBT, but scarce evidence is available on the neural correlates of CBT in the real setting. We assessed PFC activity in dyads of examiner–examinee participants while completing the real version of CBT, during conditions of increasing and exceeding workload. This procedure allowed to investigate whether brain activity in the dyads is coordinated. Results in the examinees showed that PFC activity was higher when the workload approached or reached participants' spatial WM span, and lower during workload conditions that were largely below or above their span. Interestingly, findings in the examiners paralleled the ones in the examinees, as examiners' brain activity increased and decreased in a similar way as the examinees' one. In the examiners, higher left-hemisphere activity was observed suggesting the likely activation of non-spatial WM processes. Data support a bell-shaped relationship between cognitive load and brain activity, and provide original insights on the cognitive processes activated in the examiner during CBT.

Experimental Brain Research