What is odd in the oddball task? Prefrontal cortex is activated by dynamic changes in response strategy

Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(3):379-86. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2003.07.009.


In the "oddball" target detection task, subjects respond to target stimuli that occur infrequently and irregularly within a series of standard stimuli. Although detection of these targets reliably evokes transient activity in prefrontal cortical regions, it has not been established whether this activity is due to selection of an infrequent response or to changes in response strategy. We investigated this issue using a novel variant of the oddball task that incorporated the Simon effect, while measuring hemodynamic brain activity in prefrontal cortex using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Subjects viewed a series of circles and squares that required left and right button presses, respectively. On 90% of trials ("standard" trials), the stimuli were presented in the same visual hemifield as the hand of response, but on 10% of trials ("strategy-change" trials) they were presented in the opposite visual hemifield. Significant activation to the infrequent strategy-change trials was found in the anterior middle frontal gyrus (MFG), the posterior inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and adjacent insular cortex, and in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). These regions, which correspond to previous reports of oddball-related activation, were consistent across subjects. Behavioral results supported our interpretation that subjects potentiated a position-based response strategy, which was inhibited on the strategy-change trials. Activity within the MFG and ACG was much greater on error trials than on correct trials, while IFG activity was similar between error and correct trials. We conclude that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) is associated with dynamic changes in the mapping of stimuli to responses (e.g. response strategies), independently of any changes in behavior.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Visual Fields / physiology