Tracking the subprocesses of decision-based action in the human frontal lobes

Neuroimage. 2006 Apr 1;30(2):656-67. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.09.045. Epub 2005 Oct 25.


Situationally adaptive behavior relies on the identification of relevant target stimuli, the evaluation of these with respect to the current context and the selection of an appropriate action. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to disentangle the neural networks underlying these processes within a single task. Our results show that activation of mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) reflects the perceived presence of a target stimulus regardless of context, whereas context-appropriate evaluation is subserved by mid-dorsolateral PFC. Enhancing demands on response selection by means of response conflict activated a network of regions, all of which are directly connected to motor areas. On the midline, rostral anterior paracingulate cortex was found to link target detection and response selection by monitoring for the presence of behaviorally significant conditions. In summary, we provide new evidence for process-specific functional dissociations in the frontal lobes. In target-centered processing, target detection in the VLPFC is separable from contextual evaluation in the DLPFC. Response-centered processing in motor-associated regions occurs partly in parallel to these processes, which may enhance behavioral efficiency, but it may also lead to reaction time increases when an irrelevant response tendency is elicited.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology