An ongoing controversy concerns whether executive control mechanisms can actively reconfigure the cognitive system in preparation for switching to a new task set. To address this question, we recorded brain activity from 14 healthy participants, using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, while they performed a cued attention task. Critically, in any particular trial, the cued task set was either the same as that in the previous trial or switched. As was hypothesized, cue-related, switch-specific preparatory activity was observed in a network of dorsal frontal and parietal brain areas that are typically associated with cognitive control processes. Moreover, the magnitude of switch-specific preparatory activity varied with the number of possible task sets that could be presented in a given trial block. These findings provide compelling support for the existence of top-down, preparatory control processes that enable set switching. Furthermore, they demonstrate that global task structure is a critical determinant of whether switch-specific preparatory activity is observed.
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