Attention and cognitive control networks assessed in a dichotic listening fMRI study.

Research Area: Research Year: 2011
Type of Publication: Article Keywords: Cognitive control; fMRI; Attention; Dichotic listening; Auditory discrimination
Authors: Falkenberg, Liv Eggset; Specht, Karsten; Westerhausen, Rene
A meaningful interaction with our environment relies on the ability to focus on relevant sensory input and to ignore irrelevant information, i.e. top-down control and attention processes are employed to select from competing stimuli following internal goals. In this, the demands for the recruitment of top-down control processes depend on the relative perceptual salience of the competing stimuli. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we investigated the recruitment of top-down control processes in response to varying degrees of control demands in the auditory modality. For this purpose, we tested 20 male and 20 female subjects with a dichotic listening paradigm, in which the relative perceptual salience of two simultaneously presented stimuli was systematically manipulated by varying the inter-aural intensity difference (IID) and asking the subjects to selectively attend to either ear. The analysis showed that the interaction between IID and attentional direction involves two networks in the brain. A fronto-parietal network, including the pre-supplementary motor area, anterior cingulate cortex, inferior frontal junction, insula and inferior parietal lobe, was recruited during cognitively demanding conditions and can thus be seen as a top-down cognitive control network. In contrast, a second network including the superior temporal and the post-central gyri was engaged under conditions with low cognitive control demands. These findings demonstrate how cognitive control is achieved through the interplay of distinct brain networks, with their differential engagement determined as a function of the level of competition between the sensory stimuli.
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