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Although task switching is often considered one of the fundamental abilities underlying executive functioning and general intelligence, there is little evidence that switching is a unitary construct and little evidence regarding the relationship between brain activity and switching performance. We examined individual differences in multiple types of attention shifting in order to determine whether behavioral performance and fMRI activity are correlated across different types of shifting. The participants (n = 39) switched between objects and attributes both when stimuli were perceptually available (external) and when stimuli were stored in memory (internal). We found that there were more switch-related activations in many regions associated with executive control--including the dorsolateral and medial prefrontal and parietal cortices--when behavioral switch costs were higher (poor performance). Conversely, activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the rostral anterior cingulate was consistently correlated with good performance, suggesting a general role for these areas in efficient attention shifting. We discuss these findings in terms of a model of cognitive-emotional interaction in attention shifting, in which reward-related signals in the VMPFC guide efficient selection of tasks in the lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices.

Original publication




Journal article


Cognitive, affective & behavioral neuroscience

Publication Date





127 - 143


Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027, USA.


Brain, Humans, Oxygen, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Brain Mapping, Reproducibility of Results, Individuality, Cues, Judgment, Psychomotor Performance, Attention, Reaction Time, Classification, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Adolescent, Adult, Female, Male, Statistics as Topic