The motivation to overcome adversity is critical for achieving goals in life. We recently developed a persistence metric to assess the ability to overcome adversity during a cognitive task. This metric is based on Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) performance. The WCST is typically used to measure whether people can learn new rules and shift their behavior. This requires working memory and problem solving skills. It also requires persistence. People have to overcome the adversity of finding out that they have made an error on the task and figure out how to make a correct response. We describe this method for measuring cognitive persistence in a recent article published in the journal Neuropsychologia. We also demonstrate that cognitive persistence predicts brain activity in frontal cortex during a challenging word recognition task. This measure could be important for understanding who is working their hardest to perform a task and perhaps predict who will benefit most from interventions.
Recognizing speech in challenging listening conditions often produces increased activity in frontal cortex, particularly in cingulo-opercular regions, but the significance of this activity has been unclear. This network of frontal cortex is thought to monitor performance and signal when cognitive resources are required to ensure successful performance. Findings from earlier visuospatial studies indicated that cingulo-opercular activity can be predictive of performance on the next trial, so we investigated whether cingulo-opercular activity could also predict word recognition when words were presented in a multi-talker babble. The results of our fMRI experiment demonstrated that elevated activity in cingulo-opercular cortex provided word recognition benefit on the following trial. While elevated cingulo-opercular activity was not necessary for word recognition, up to 13% more words were recognized when activity was high compared to when it was low suggesting that elevated activity provided for optimal word recognition. These results are important because they support the premise that cingulo-opercular activity can enhance ongoing task performance and does not only reflect difficulty or error. They also suggest the intriguing possibility that we can enhance our performance on a variety of tasks and especially speech recognition by engaging cingulo-opercular cortex. These findings have been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.