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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Modulations of the executive control network by stimulus onset asynchrony in a Stroop task

Emily L Coderre12* and Walter J B van Heuven1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

2 Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1629 Thames St. Suite 350, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-79

Published: 31 July 2013

Abstract

Background

Manipulating task difficulty is a useful way of elucidating the functional recruitment of the brain’s executive control network. In a Stroop task, pre-exposing the irrelevant word using varying stimulus onset asynchronies (‘negative’ SOAs) modulates the amount of behavioural interference and facilitation, suggesting disparate mechanisms of cognitive processing in each SOA. The current study employed a Stroop task with three SOAs (−400, -200, 0 ms), using functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate for the first time the neural effects of SOA manipulation. Of specific interest were 1) how SOA affects the neural representation of interference and facilitation; 2) response priming effects in negative SOAs; and 3) attentional effects of blocked SOA presentation.

Results

The results revealed three regions of the executive control network that were sensitive to SOA during Stroop interference; the 0 ms SOA elicited the greatest activation of these areas but experienced relatively smaller behavioural interference, suggesting that the enhanced recruitment led to more efficient conflict processing. Response priming effects were localized to the right inferior frontal gyrus, which is consistent with the idea that this region performed response inhibition in incongruent conditions to overcome the incorrectly-primed response, as well as more general action updating and response preparation. Finally, the right superior parietal lobe was sensitive to blocked SOA presentation and was most active for the 0 ms SOA, suggesting that this region is involved in attentional control.

Conclusions

SOA exerted both trial-specific and block-wide effects on executive processing, providing a unique paradigm for functional investigations of the cognitive control network.

Keywords:
fMRI; Stroop task; Stimulus onset asynchrony; Cognitive control