Common and Distinct Neural Mechanisms of Attentional Switching and Response Conflict


The human capacities for overcoming prepotent actions and flexibly switching between tasks represent cornerstones of cognitive control. Functional neuroimaging has implicated a diverse set of brain regions contributing to each of these cognitive control processes. However, the extent to which attentional switching and response conflict draw on shared or distinct neural mechanisms remains unclear. The current study examined the neural correlates of response conflict and attentional switching using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a fully randomized 2×2 design. We manipulated an arrow-word version of the Stroop task to measure conflict and switching in the context of a single task decision, in response to a common set of stimuli. Under these common conditions, both behavioral and imaging data showed significant main effects of conflict and switching but no interaction. However, conjunction analyses identified frontal regions involved in both switching and response conflict, including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and left inferior frontal junction. In addition, connectivity analyses demonstrated task-dependent functional connectivity patterns between dACC and inferior temporal cortex for attentional switching and between dACC and posterior parietal cortex for response conflict. These results suggest that the brain makes use of shared frontal regions, but can dynamically modulate the connectivity patterns of some of those regions, to deal with attentional switching and response conflict.

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Published in Brain Research, v. 1469, p. 92–102.

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