Role of the Frontal Cortical Areas in the Analysis of Visual Stimuli at Conscious and Unconscious Levels

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Event-related potentials (ERP) in response to complex target stimuli, which consisted of a central recognizable picture and a lateral masked image (analyzed at the unconscious level) were recorded in adult subjects and seven-year-old children. ERP components N 200, N 300, and P 400/N400 had different topography and were differently pronounced in adults and children. In adult subjects, the N 200 component that reflects the processing of a sensory stimulus was recorded in the temporo-parieto-occipital and occipital areas. In children, N 200 was recorded in the caudal regions and the frontal areas of the cortex. Analysis of different waveforms obtained by subtraction of the ERP to the central stimulus from the ERP to the complex stimulus showed that unconscious stimulus processing in adult subjects is not reflected in the ERP structure. In children, an unconsciously processed image incorporated into a complex stimulus evokes processing negativity in the occipital and frontal cortical areas. Comparison of ERP in groups of children divided by their reflectivity/impulsivity showed that, predominantly, the left frontal area is involved in image analysis at the unconscious level in reflective children and, predominantly, the right frontal area participates in unconscious image analysis in impulsive children. It is suggested that the perfection of the visual recognition of a target stimulus, which contains additional unconsciously processed information, consists in growth of the involvement of the left-hemispheric mechanisms (with respective growth of significance of the left-hemispheric mechanisms) and in a decrease in the role of the frontal areas in analysis of sensory information.

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