Toward a taxonomy of attention shifting: individual differences in fMRI during multiple shift types

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2005 Jun;5(2):127-43. doi: 10.3758/cabn.5.2.127.


Although task switching is often considered one of the fundamental abilities underlying executive functioning and general intelligence, there is little evidence that switching is a unitary construct and little evidence regarding the relationship between brain activity and switching performance. We examined individual differences in multiple types of attention shifting in order to determine whether behavioral performance and fMRI activity are correlated across different types of shifting. The participants (n = 39) switched between objects and attributes both when stimuli were perceptually available (external) and when stimuli were stored in memory (internal). We found that there were more switch-related activations in many regions associated with executive control--including the dorsolateral and medial prefrontal and parietal cortices--when behavioral switch costs were higher (poor performance). Conversely, activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the rostral anterior cingulate was consistently correlated with good performance, suggesting a general role for these areas in efficient attention shifting. We discuss these findings in terms of a model of cognitive-emotional interaction in attention shifting, in which reward-related signals in the VMPFC guide efficient selection of tasks in the lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / classification*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Classification*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Individuality*
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Statistics as Topic


  • Oxygen