Focused attention in a simple dichotic listening task: an fMRI experiment

Research Area: Research Year: 2003
Type of Publication: Article
Authors: Jäncke, L; Specht, Karsten; Shah, J N; Hugdahl, Kenneth
Whole-head functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used in nine neurologically intact subjects to measure the hemodynamic responses in the context of dichotic listening (DL). In order to eliminate the influence of verbal information processing, tones of different frequencies were used as stimuli. Three different dichotic listening tasks were used: the subjects were instructed to either concentrate on the stimuli presented in both ears (DIV), or only in the left (FL) or right (FR) ear and to monitor the auditory input for a specific target tone. When the target tone was detected, the subjects were required to indicate this by pressing a response button. Compared to the resting state, all dichotic listening tasks evoked strong hemodynamic responses within a distributed network comprising of temporal, parietal, and frontal brain areas. Thus, it is clear that dichotic listening makes use of various cognitive functions located within the dorsal and ventral stream of auditory information processing (i.e., the 'what' and 'where' streams). Comparing the three different dichotic listening conditions with each other only revealed a significant difference in the pre-SMA and within the left planum temporale area. The pre-SMA was generally more strongly activated during the DIV condition than during the FR and FL conditions. Within the planum temporale, the strongest activation was found during the FR condition and the weakest during the DIV condition. These findings were taken as evidence that even a simple dichotic listening task such as the one used here, makes use of a distributed neural network comprising of the dorsal and ventral stream of auditory information processing. In addition, these results support the previously made assumption that planum temporale activation is modulated by attentional strategies. Finally, the present findings uncovered that the pre-SMA, which is mostly thought to be involved in higher-order motor control processes, is also involved in cognitive processes operative during dichotic listening.
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