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Keywords:

  • fMRI;
  • bottleneck of information processing;
  • response selection;
  • dual-tasking;
  • psychological refractory period

Abstract

Two sensorimotor tasks that share neither sensory nor motor modality can interfere with one another when they are performed simultaneously. A possible cause for this interference is the recruitment of common brain regions by these two tasks, thereby creating a bottleneck of information processing. This hypothesis predicts that such “bottleneck” regions would be activated by each task even when they are performed separately. To test this prediction, we sought to identify, with fMRI, brain regions commonly activated by sensorimotor tasks that share neither sensory input nor motor output. One group of subjects was scanned while they performed in separate runs an auditory-vocal (AVo) task and a visuo-manual (ViM) task, while a second group of subjects performed the reversed sensorimotor mapping tasks (AM and ViVo). The results revealed strong activation preferences in specific sensory and motor cortical areas for each sensory and motor modality. By contrast, the posterior portion of the lateral prefrontal cortex (pLPFC), anterior insula, and, less consistently, the anterior cingulate, presupplementary and supplementary motor areas, and subcortical areas were commonly activated across all four sensorimotor tasks. These results were observed in both blocked and event-related fMRI designs, in both 3D-group averaged and 2D-individual subject analyses, and were replicated within individuals across scanning sessions. These findings not only suggest that these brain regions serve a common amodal function in sensorimotor tasks, they also point to these regions—particularly, the pLPFC and anterior insula—as candidate neural substrates underlying a central hub of information processing in the human brain. Hum Brain Mapp, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.