Neuroimaging studies have repeatedly reported findings of activation in frontoparietal regions that largely overlap across various cognitive functions. Part of this frontoparietal activation has been interpreted as reflecting attentional mechanisms that can adaptively be directed towards external stimulation as well as internal representations (internal attention), thereby generating the experience of distinct cognitive functions. Nevertheless, findings of material- and task-specific activation in frontal and parietal regions challenge this internal attention hypothesis and have been used to support more modular hypotheses of cognitive function. The aim of this review is twofold: First, it discusses evidence in support of the concept of internal attention and the so-called dorsal attention network (DAN) as its neural source with respect to three cognitive functions (working memory, episodic retrieval, and mental imagery). While DAN activation in all three functions has been separately linked to internal attention, a comprehensive and integrative review has so far been lacking. Second, the review examines findings of material- and process-specific activation within frontoparietal regions, arguing that these results are well compatible with the internal attention account of frontoparietal activation. A new model of cognition is presented, proposing that supposedly different cognitive concepts actually rely on similar attentional network dynamics to maintain, reactivate and newly create internal representations of stimuli in various modalities. Attentional as well as representational mechanisms are assigned to frontal and parietal regions, positing that some regions are implicated in the allocation of attentional resources to perceptual or internal representations, but others are involved in the representational processes themselves.
Keywords: Episodic retrieval; Frontoparietal; Internal attention; Mental imagery; Spatial representation; Working memory.
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