It has been hypothesized that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) contributes to cognition by detecting conflicts that might occur during information processing, to signal the need to engage top-down attentional processes. The present study was designed to investigate which levels of processing are being monitored by the ACC for the presence of conflict. Event-related fMRI was used to measure the response of the ACC during an interference task in which distracting information could be congruent, conflicting at the level of stimulus identification, or conflicting at the response level. Although both types of conflict caused reaction time interference, the fMRI data showed that the ACC is responsive only to response conflict, even when controlling for reaction times. These results suggest a highly specific contribution of the ACC to executive functions, through the detection of conflicts occurring at later or response-related levels of processing.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.