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Neuropsychologia. 1998 Dec;36(12):1325-34.

Monitoring for target objects: activation of right frontal and parietal cortices with increasing time on task.

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  • 1Wellcome Dept of Cognitive Neurology, London, UK.


The right prefrontal and parietal cortices have been implicated in attentional processing in both neuropsychological and functional neuroimaging literature. However, attention is a heterogeneous collection of processes, each of which may be underpinned by different neural networks. These attentional networks may interact, such that engaging one type of attentional process could influence the efficiency of another via overlapping neural substrates. We investigated the hypothesis that right frontal and parietal cortices provide the neuroanatomical location of the functional interaction between sustained attention and the process of selectively monitoring for target objects. Six healthy volunteers performed one of two tasks which required either selective or non-selective responding. The task lasted continuously for 18 min, during which time 3 Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans were acquired for each task. This was repeated to obtain 12 PET measurements of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) for each subject. The right inferior frontal and parietal cortices were differentially activated by increasing time on task during the selective (S) vs non-selective (NS) task. Specifically, rCBF decreased with increasing time spent performing the NS task but not the S task. This result suggests that the normal deactivation in these areas as time on task increases is counteracted by the extra cognitive demands of selectively responding to target objects. Therefore, we have confirmed our hypothesis that right frontal and parietal cortices provide the neuroanatomical location for the modulation of object selection by sustained attention. We also identified the neuroanatomical correlates of each process separately, and confirmed earlier reports of prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate activation associated with selective responding, and a fronto-parietal-thalamic network associated with sustained attention.

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