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Neuropsychologia. 2005;43(9):1318-28. Epub 2005 Jan 20.

Effortless control: executive attention and conscious feeling of mental effort are dissociable.

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Clinical Neurophysiology Department, HĂŽpital de la SalpĂȘtriere, 47 Boulevard de l'Hopital, IFR 49, 75013 Paris, France.


Recruitment of executive attention is normally associated to a subjective feeling of mental effort. Here we investigate the nature of this coupling in a patient with a left mesio-frontal cortex lesion including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and in a group of comparison subjects using a Stroop paradigm. We show that in normal subjects, subjective increases in effort associated with executive control correlate with higher skin-conductance responses (SCRs). However, our patient experienced no conscious feeling of mental effort and showed no SCR, in spite of exhibiting normal executive control, and residual right anterior cingulate activity measured with event-related potentials (ERPs). Finally, this patient demonstrated a pattern of impaired behavior and SCRs in the Iowa gambling task-elaborated by Damasio, Bechara and colleagues-replicating the findings reported by these authors for other patients with mesio-frontal lesions. Taken together, these results call for a theoretical refinement by revealing a decoupling between conscious cognitive control and consciously reportable feelings. Moreover, they reveal a fundamental distinction, observed here within the same patient, between the cognitive operations which are depending on normal somatic marker processing, and those which are withstanding to impairments of this system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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