To investigate the neural bases of intrinsically and extrinsically driven cognitive loads in daily life, we measured repetitively prefrontal activation in three (one control and two experimental) groups during a driving video game using near-infrared spectroscopy. The control group drove to goal four times with distinct route-maps illustrating default turning points. In contrast, the memory group drove the memorized default route without a route-map, and the emergency group drove with a route-map, but was instructed to change the default route by an extrinsically given verbal command (turn left or right) as an envisioned emergency. The predictability of a turning point in the route in each group was relatively different: due to extrinsic dictate of others in the emergency group, intrinsic memory in the memory group, and route-map aid in the control group. We analyzed concentration changes of oxygenated hemoglobin (CoxyHb) in the three critical periods (pre-turning, actual-turning, and post-turning). The emergency group showed a significantly increasing pattern of CoxyHb throughout the three periods, and a significant reduction in CoxyHb throughout the repetitive trials, but the memory group did not, even though both experimental groups showed higher activation than the control group in the pre-turning period. These results suggest that the prefrontal cortex differentiates the intrinsically (memory) and the extrinsically (dictate of others) driven cognitive loads according to the predictability of turning behavior, although the two types of cognitive loads commonly show increasing activation in the pre-turning period as the preparation effect.
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