Single-trial coupling of EEG and fMRI reveals the involvement of early anterior cingulate cortex activation in effortful decision making

Neuroimage. 2008 Aug 1;42(1):158-68. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.04.236. Epub 2008 Apr 29.


While the precise role of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is still being discussed, it has been suggested that ACC activity might reflect the amount of mental effort associated with cognitive processing. So far, not much is known about the temporal dynamics of ACC activity in effort-related decision making or auditory attention, because fMRI is limited concerning its temporal resolution and electroencephalography (EEG) is limited concerning its spatial resolution. Single-trial coupling of EEG and fMRI can be used to predict the BOLD signal specifically related to amplitude variations of electrophysiological components. The striking feature of single-trial coupling is its ability to separate different aspects of the BOLD signal according to their specific relationship to a distinct neural process. In the present study we investigated 10 healthy subjects with a forced choice reaction task under both low and high effort conditions and a control condition (passive listening) using simultaneous EEG and fMRI. We detected a significant effect of mental effort only for the N1 potential, but not for the P300 potential. In the fMRI analysis, ACC activation was present only in the high effort condition. We used single-trial coupling of EEG and fMRI in order to separate information specific to N1-amplitude variations from the unrelated BOLD response. Under high effort conditions we were able to detect circumscribed BOLD activations specific to the N1 potential in the ACC (t=4.7) and the auditory cortex (t=6.1). Comparing the N1-specific BOLD activity of the high effort condition versus the control condition we found only activation of the ACC (random effects analysis, corrected for multiple comparisons, t=4.4). These findings suggest a role of early ACC activation in effort-related decision making and provide a direct link between the N1 component and its corresponding BOLD signal.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult