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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 25;8(6):e67391. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067391. Print 2013.

Neural activity changes associated with impulsive responding in the sustained attention to response task.

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Frontier Research Center, Toyota Central Research and Development Laboratories, Inc., Nagakute, Japan.


Humans can anticipate and prepare for uncertainties to achieve a goal. However, it is difficult to maintain this effort over a prolonged period of time. Inappropriate behavior is impulsively (or mindlessly) activated by an external trigger, which can result in serious consequences such as traffic crashes. Thus, we examined the neural mechanisms underlying such impulsive responding using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Twenty-two participants performed a block-designed sustained attention to response task (SART), where each task block was composed of consecutive Go trials followed by a NoGo trial at the end. This task configuration enabled us to measure compromised preparation for NoGo trials during Go responses using reduced Go reaction times. Accordingly, parametric modulation analysis was conducted on fMRI data using block-based mean Go reaction times as an online marker of impulsive responding in the SART. We found that activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the bilateral intraparietal sulcus (IPS) was positively modulated with mean Go reaction times. In addition, activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) was negatively modulated with mean Go reaction times, albeit statistically weakly. Taken together, spontaneously reduced activity in the right DLPFC and the IPS and spontaneously elevated activity in the MPFC and the PCC were associated with impulsive responding in the SART. These results suggest that such a spontaneous transition of brain activity pattern results in impulsive responding in monotonous situations, which in turn, might cause human errors in actual work environments.

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