Deciding where to attend: Large-scale network mechanisms underlying attention and intention revealed by graph-theoretic analysis

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The neural mechanisms by which intentions are transformed into actions remain poorly understood. We investigated the network mechanisms underlying spontaneous voluntary decisions about where to focus visual-spatial attention (willed attention). Graph-theoretic analysis of two independent datasets revealed that regions activated during willed attention form a set of functionally-distinct networks corresponding to the frontoparietal network, the cingulo-opercular network, and the dorsal attention network. Contrasting willed attention with instructed attention (where attention is directed by external cues), we observed that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex was allied with the dorsal attention network in instructed attention, but shifted connectivity during willed attention to interact with the cingulo-opercular network, which then mediated communications between the frontoparietal network and the dorsal attention network. Behaviorally, greater connectivity in network hubs, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and the inferior parietal lobule, was associated with faster reaction times. These results, shown to be consistent across the two independent datasets, uncover the dynamic organization of functionally-distinct networks engaged to support intentional acts.

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