Temporal Dynamics of Human Frontal and Cingulate Neural Activity During Conflict and Cognitive Control

Cereb Cortex. 2018 Nov 1;28(11):3842-3856. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhx245.


Cognitive control refers to the ability to produce flexible, goal-oriented behavior in the face of changing task demands and conflicting response tendencies. A classic cognitive control experiment is the Stroop-color naming task, which requires participants to name the color in which a word is written while inhibiting the tendency to read the word. By comparing stimuli with conflicting word-color associations to congruent ones, control processes over response tendencies can be isolated. We assessed the spatial specificity and temporal dynamics in the theta and gamma bands for regions engaged in detecting and resolving conflict in a cohort of 13 patients using a combination of high-resolution surface and depth recordings. We show that cognitive control manifests as a sustained increase in gamma band power, which correlates with response time. Conflict elicits a sustained gamma power increase but a transient theta power increase, specifically localized to the left cingulate sulcus and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Additionally, activity in DLPFC is affected by trial-by-trial modulation of cognitive control (the Gratton effect). Altogether, the sustained local neural activity in dorsolateral and medial regions is what determines the timing of the correct response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gamma Rhythm*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Stroop Test
  • Theta Rhythm*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult