Anterior cingulate cortex and response conflict: effects of frequency, inhibition and errors.
Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) may play a key role in cognitive control by monitoring for the occurrence of response conflict (i.e. simultaneous activation of incompatible response tendencies). Low-frequency responding might provide a minimal condition for eliciting such conflict, as a result of the need to overcome a prepotent response tendency. We predicted that ACC would be selectively engaged during low-frequency responding, irrespective of the specific task situation. To test this hypothesis, we examined ACC activity during the performance of simple choice-discrimination tasks, using rapid event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging. Subjects were scanned while performing three tasks thought to tap different cognitive processes: 'Go/No-go' (response inhibition), 'oddball' (target detection), and two-alternative forced- choice (response selection). Separate conditions manipulated the frequency of relevant task events. Consistent with our hypothesis, the same ACC region was equally responsive to low-frequency events across all three tasks, but did not show differential responding when events occurred with equal frequency. Subregions of the ACC were also identified that showed heightened activity during the response inhibition condition, and on trials in which errors were committed. Task-sensitive activity was also found in right prefrontal and parietal cortex (response inhibition), left superior temporal and tempoparietal cortex (target detection), and supplementary motor area (response selection). Taken together, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that the ACC serves as a generic detector of processing conflict arising when low-frequency responses must be executed, but also leave open the possibility that further functional specialization may occur within ACC subregions.