Attention, intention, and strategy in preparatory control

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Abstract

The neural mechanisms underlying different forms of preparatory control were examined using event-related fMRI. Preparatory brain activation was monitored in relation to different types of advance information: (1) random task cues indicating which of two possible tasks to perform upon subsequent target presentation; (2) task-ambiguous target stimuli; or (3) targets for which the correct response could be pre-determined. Three types of activation pattern were observed in different brain regions. First, more posterior regions of lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) and parietal cortex were activated by both advance task cues and advance targets, but with increased and more sustained activation for the latter. Second, more anterior regions of LPFC and parietal cortex were selectively activated by advance targets. Importantly, in these regions preparatory activation was not further modulated by the availability of advance response information. In contrast, preparatory activation in a third set of brain regions, including medial frontal cortex, reflected the utilization of advance response information, but by only a subset of participants. These results suggest three types of preparatory control: attentional (stimulus-oriented), intentional (action-oriented), and a possibly strategic component that might determine inter-individual differences in response readiness. Notably, the absence of regions selectively or even preferentially activated during cue-based preparation argues against certain conceptualizations of task-selective attention under cued task-switching conditions.

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