A central role for the lateral prefrontal cortex in goal-directed and stimulus-driven attention

Nat Neurosci. 2010 Apr;13(4):507-12. doi: 10.1038/nn.2509. Epub 2010 Mar 7.


Attention is the process that selects which sensory information is preferentially processed and ultimately reaches our awareness. Attention, however, is not a unitary process; it can be captured by unexpected or salient events (stimulus driven) or it can be deployed under voluntary control (goal directed), and these two forms of attention are implemented by largely distinct ventral and dorsal parieto-frontal networks. For coherent behavior and awareness to emerge, stimulus-driven and goal-directed behavior must ultimately interact. We found that the ventral, but not dorsal, network can account for stimulus-driven attentional limits to conscious perception, and that stimulus-driven and goal-directed attention converge in the lateral prefrontal component of that network. Although these results do not rule out dorsal network involvement in awareness when goal-directed task demands are present, they point to a general role for the lateral prefrontal cortex in the control of attention and awareness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation* / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology