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Conflict monitoring versus selection-for-action in anterior cingulate cortex


The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), on the medial surface of the frontal lobes of the brain, is widely believed to be involved in the regulation of attention1,2. Beyond this, however, its specific contribution to cognition remains uncertain. One influential theory has interpreted activation within the ACC as reflecting ‘selection-for-action’3,4,5, a set of processes that guide the selection of environmental objects as triggers of or targets for action. We have proposed an alternative hypothesis, in which the ACC serves not to exert top-down attentional control but instead to detect and signal the occurrence of conflicts in information processing6,7,8. Here, to test this theory against the selection-for-action theory, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activation during performance of a task where, for a particular subset of trials, the strength of selection-for-action is inversely related to the degree of response conflict. Activity within the ACC was greater during trials featuring high levels of conflict (and weak selection-for-action) than during trials with low levels of conflict (and strong selection-for-action), providing evidence in favour of the conflict-monitoring account of ACC function.

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Figure 1
Figure 2: Location of the ACC area displaying greater activity on incompatible than compatible trials and on cI than iI trials.
Figure 3: Time-course of activity within the region shown in Fig. 2.


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We thank D. Noll for technical assistance. This work was supported by NARSAD, NSF, NIMH and the Fetzer Foundation.

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Correspondence to Matthew Botvinick.

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Botvinick, M., Nystrom, L., Fissell, K. et al. Conflict monitoring versus selection-for-action in anterior cingulate cortex. Nature 402, 179–181 (1999).

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