Switching attention and resolving interference: fMRI measures of executive functions

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(3):357-70. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00167-7.


Is there a single executive process or are there multiple executive processes that work together towards the same goal in some task? In these experiments, we use counter switching and response inhibition tasks to examine the neural underpinnings of two cognitive processes that have often been identified as potential executive processes: the switching of attention between tasks, and the resolution of interference between competing task responses. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), for both event-related and blocked design tasks, we find evidence for common neural areas across both tasks in bilateral parietal cortex (BA 40), left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC; BA 9), premotor cortex (BA 6) and medial frontal cortex (BA 6/32). However, we also find areas preferentially involved in the switching of attention between mental counts (BA 7, BA 18) and the inhibition of a prepotent motor response (BA 6, BA 10), respectively. These findings provide evidence for the separability of cognitive processes underlying executive control.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Saccades
  • Task Performance and Analysis