Task-related hemodynamic responses in human early visual cortex are modulated by task difficulty and behavioral performance

Charlie S. Burlingham, Minyoung Ryoo, Zvi N. Roth, Saghar Mirbagheri, David J. Heeger, Elisha P. Merriam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early visual cortex exhibits widespread hemodynamic responses in the absence of visual stimulation, which are entrained to the timing of a task and not predicted by local spiking or local field potential. Such task-related responses (TRRs) covary with reward magnitude and physiological signatures of arousal. It is unknown, however, if TRRs change on a trial-to-trial basis according to behavioral performance and task difficulty. If so, this would suggest that TRRs reflect arousal on a trial-to-trial timescale and covary with critical task and behavioral variables. We measured functional magnetic resonance imaging blood-oxygen-level-dependent (fMRI-BOLD) responses in the early visual cortex of human observers performing an orientation discrimination task consisting of separate easy and hard runs of trials. Stimuli were presented in a small portion of one hemifield, but the fMRI response was measured in the ipsilateral hemisphere, far from the stimulus representation and focus of spatial attention. TRRs scaled in amplitude with task difficulty, behavioral accuracy, reaction time, and lapses across trials. These modulations were not explained by the influence of respiration, cardiac activity, or head movement on the fMRI signal. Similar modulations with task difficulty and behavior were observed in pupil size. These results suggest that TRRs reflect arousal and behavior on the timescale of individual trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere73018
StatePublished - Apr 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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