An fMRI study of Stroop word-color interference: evidence for cingulate subregions subserving multiple distributed attentional systems

Biol Psychiatry. 1999 May 15;45(10):1237-58. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(99)00056-6.


Background: The goal of this study was to model the functional connectivity of the neural systems that subserve attention and impulse control. Proper performance of the Stroop Word-Color Interference Task requires both attention and impulse control.

Methods: Word-color interference was studied in 34 normal adult subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: Interregional correlation analyses suggested that the anterior cingulate is coupled functionally with multiple regions throughout the cerebrum. A factor analysis of the significant regional activations further emphasized this functional coupling. The cingulate or related mesial frontal cortices loaded on each of the seven factors identified in the factor analysis. Other regions that loaded significantly on these factors have been described previously as belonging to anatomically connected circuits believed to subserve sensory tuning, receptive language, vigilance, working memory, response selection, motor planning, and motor response functions. These seven factors appeared to be oriented topographically within the anterior cingulate, with sensory, working memory, and vigilance functions positioned more rostrally, and response selection, motor planning, and motor response positioned progressively more caudally.

Conclusions: These findings support a parallel distributed processing model for word-color interference in which portions of the anterior cingulate cortex modify the strengths of multiple neural pathways used to read and name colors. Allocation of attentional resources is thought to modify pathway strengths by reducing cross-talk between information processing modules that subserve the competing demands of reading and color naming. The functional topography of these neural systems observed within the cingulate argues for the presence of multiple attentional subsystems, each contributing to improved task performance. The topography also suggests a role for the cingulate in coordinating and integrating the activity of these multiple attentional subsystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests* / statistics & numerical data
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reading
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology