Modeling conflict and error in the medial frontal cortex

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Abstract

Despite intensive study, the role of the dorsal medial frontal cortex (dMFC) in error monitoring and conflict processing remains actively debated. The current experiment manipulated conflict type (stimulus conflict only or stimulus and response selection conflict) and utilized a novel modeling approach to isolate error and conflict variance during a multimodal numeric Stroop task. Specifically, hemodynamic response functions resulting from two statistical models that either included or isolated variance arising from relatively few error trials were directly contrasted. Twenty-four participants completed the task while undergoing event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging on a 1.5-Tesla scanner. Response times monotonically increased based on the presence of pure stimulus or stimulus and response selection conflict. Functional results indicated that dMFC activity was present during trials requiring response selection and inhibition of competing motor responses, but absent during trials involving pure stimulus conflict. A comparison of the different statistical models suggested that relatively few error trials contributed to a disproportionate amount of variance (i.e., activity) throughout the dMFC, but particularly within the rostral anterior cingulate gyrus (rACC). Finally, functional connectivity analyses indicated that an empirically derived seed in the dorsal ACC/pre-SMA exhibited strong connectivity (i.e., positive correlation) with prefrontal and inferior parietal cortex but was anti-correlated with the default-mode network. An empirically derived seed from the rACC exhibited the opposite pattern, suggesting that sub-regions of the dMFC exhibit different connectivity patterns with other large scale networks implicated in internal mentations such as daydreaming (default-mode) versus the execution of top-down attentional control (fronto-parietal). Hum Brain Mapp, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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