Cortical mechanisms of cognitive control for shifting attention in vision and working memory

J Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Oct;23(10):2905-19. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2011.21608. Epub 2011 Feb 3.


Organisms operate within both a perceptual domain of objects and events, and a mnemonic domain of past experiences and future goals. Each domain requires a deliberate selection of task-relevant information, through deployments of external (perceptual) and internal (mnemonic) attention, respectively. Little is known about the control of attention shifts in working memory, or whether voluntary control of attention in these two domains is subserved by a common or by distinct functional networks. We used human fMRI to examine the neural basis of cognitive control while participants shifted attention in vision and in working memory. We found that these acts of control recruit in common a subset of the dorsal fronto-parietal attentional control network, including the medial superior parietal lobule, intraparietal sulcus, and superior frontal sulcus/gyrus. Event-related multivoxel pattern classification reveals, however, that these regions exhibit distinct spatio-temporal patterns of neural activity during internal and external shifts of attention, respectively. These findings constrain theoretical accounts of selection in working memory and perception by showing that populations of neurons in dorsal fronto-parietal network regions exhibit selective tuning for acts of cognitive control in different cognitive domains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / blood supply
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen