Large-scale neural dynamics in a low-dimensional state space reflect cognitive and attentional dynamics
Cognition and attention arise from the adaptive coordination of neural systems in response to internal and external demands. The low-dimensional latent subspace that underlies large-scale neural dynamics, and the relationship of these dynamics to cognitive and attention states, however, is unknown. We conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging as human participants performed attention tasks, watched comedy sitcom episodes and an educational documentary, and rested. Whole-brain dynamics traversed a common set of latent states that spanned two gradient axes of functional brain organization, with global synchrony among functional networks modulating state transitions. Neural states transitions were time-locked to narrative event boundaries and changes in cognitive task demands, and reflected attentional states in both task and naturalistic contexts. Together, the study demonstrates that traversals along the low-dimensional gradients reflect cognitive and attentional dynamics in diverse contexts.