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Neuropsychologia. 2013 Nov;51(13):2770-80. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.08.019. Epub 2013 Sep 4.

More attention when speaking: does it help or does it hurt?

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Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Goddard Labs, 3710 Hamilton Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. Electronic address:


Paying selective attention to a word in a multi-word utterance results in a decreased probability of error on that word (benefit), but an increased probability of error on the other words (cost). We ask whether excitation of the prefrontal cortex helps or hurts this cost. One hypothesis (the resource hypothesis) predicts a decrease in the cost due to the deployment of more attentional resources, while another (the focus hypothesis) predicts even greater costs due to further fine-tuning of selective attention. Our results are more consistent with the focus hypothesis: prefrontal stimulation caused a reliable increase in the benefit and a marginal increase in the cost of selective attention. To ensure that the effects are due to changes to the prefrontal cortex, we provide two checks: We show that the pattern of results is quite different if, instead, the primary motor cortex is stimulated. We also show that the stimulation-related benefits in the verbal task correlate with the stimulation-related benefits in an N-back task, which is known to tap into a prefrontal function. Our results shed light on how selective attention affects language production, and more generally, on how selective attention affects production of a sequence over time.


Cognitive control; Executive functions; Language production; Selective attention; Transcranial direct cortical stimulation (tDCS)

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