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Neuroimage. 1998 Jan;7(1):23-9.

Coexistence of attention-based facilitation and inhibition in the human cortex.

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Cognitive Neurophysiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


A key function of attention is to select an appropriate subset of available information by facilitation of attended processes and/or inhibition of irrelevant processing. Functional imaging studies, using positron emission tomography, have during different experimental tasks revealed decreased neuronal activity in areas that process input from unattended sensory modalities. It has been hypothesized that these decreases reflect a selective inhibitory modulation of nonrelevant cortical processing. In this study we addressed this question using a continuous arithmetical task with and without concomitant disturbing auditory input (task-irrelevant speech). During the arithmetical task, irrelevant speech did not affect task-performance but yielded decreased activity in the auditory and midcingulate cortices and increased activity in the left posterior parietal cortex. This pattern of modulation is consistent with a top down inhibitory modulation of a nonattended input to the auditory cortex and a coexisting, attention-based facilitation of task-relevant processing in higher order cortices. These findings suggest that task-related decreases in cortical activity may be of functional importance in the understanding of both attentional mechanisms and task-related information processing.

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