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      Brain-environment alignment during movie watching predicts fluid intelligence and affective function in adulthood


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          • Functional brain connectivity (FC) patterns vary with changes in the environment.

          • Adult FC variability is linked to age-specific network communication profiles.

          • Across adulthood, the younger network interaction profile predicts higher fluid IQ.

          • Yoked FC-concrete environmental changes predict poorer fluid IQ and anxiety.

          • Brain areas linked to episodic memory underpin FC changes at multiple timescales.


          BOLD fMRI studies have provided compelling evidence that the human brain demonstrates substantial moment-to-moment fluctuations in both activity and functional connectivity (FC) patterns. While the role of brain signal variability in fostering cognitive adaptation to ongoing environmental demands is well-documented, the relevance of moment-to-moment changes in FC patterns is still debated. Here, we adopt a graph theoretical approach in order to shed light on the cognitive-affective implications of FC variability and associated profiles of functional network communication in adulthood. Our goal is to identify brain communication pathways underlying FC reconfiguration at multiple timescales, thereby improving understanding of how faster perceptually bound versus slower conceptual processes shape neural tuning to the dynamics of the external world and, thus, indirectly, mold affective and cognitive responding to the environment. To this end, we used neuroimaging and behavioural data collected during movie watching by the Cambridge Center for Ageing and Neuroscience ( N = 642, 326 women) and the Human Connectome Project ( N = 176, 106 women). FC variability evoked by changes to both the concrete perceptual and the more abstract conceptual representation of an ongoing situation increased from young to older adulthood. However, coupling between variability in FC patterns and concrete environmental features was stronger at younger ages. FC variability (both moment-to-moment/concrete featural and abstract conceptual boundary-evoked) was associated with age-distinct profiles of network communication, specifically, greater functional integration of the default mode network in older adulthood, but greater informational flow across neural networks implicated in environmentally driven attention and control (cingulo-opercular, salience, ventral attention) in younger adulthood. Whole-brain communication pathways anchored in default mode regions relevant to episodic and semantic context creation (i.e., angular and middle temporal gyri) supported FC reconfiguration in response to changes in the conceptual representation of an ongoing situation (i.e., narrative event boundaries), as well as stronger coupling between moment-to-moment fluctuations in FC and concrete environmental features. Fluid intelligence/abstract reasoning was directly linked to levels of brain-environment alignment, but only indirectly associated with levels of FC variability. Specifically, stronger coupling between moment-to-moment FC variability and concrete environmental features predicted poorer fluid intelligence and greater affectively driven environmental vigilance. Complementarily, across the adult lifespan, higher fluid (but not crystallised) intelligence was related to stronger expression of the network communication profile underlying momentary and event boundary-based FC variability during youth. Our results indicate that the adaptiveness of dynamic FC reconfiguration during naturalistic information processing changes across the lifespan due to the associated network communication profiles. Moreover, our findings on brain-environment alignment complement the existing literature on the beneficial consequences of modulating brain signal variability in response to environmental complexity. Specifically, they imply that coupling between moment-to-moment FC variability and concrete environmental features may index a bias towards perceptually-bound, rather than conceptual processing, which hinders affective functioning and strategic cognitive engagement with the external environment.

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          Most cited references137

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                Author and article information

                Academic Press
                1 September 2021
                September 2021
                : 238
                : 118177
                [0001]Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Maindy Road, Cardiff CF24 4HQ, United Kingdom
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. petricanr@ 123456cardiff.ac.uk
                S1053-8119(21)00454-7 118177
                © 2021 The Author(s)

                This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

                : 25 January 2021
                : 11 April 2021
                : 14 May 2021

                event cognition,functional networks,dynamic connectivity,fluid intelligence,aging,anxietybrain-environment alignment during movie watching predicts fluid intelligence and affective function in adulthood


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