Anterior cingulate cortex: an fMRI analysis of conflict specificity and functional differentiation.
In this event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we provide evidence that the role of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in cognitive control may not be unitary, as the responses of different ACC subregions vary depending upon the nature of task-irrelevant information. More specifically, using the color-word Stroop task (congruent, incongruent, and neutral trial types), we examined the degree to which increases in neural activity within ACC are specific to conditions of conflict, as posited by the conflict monitoring theory (Botvinick et al. : Rev Neurosci 10:49-57; Carter et al. : Science 280:747-749). Although incongruent and congruent trials both involve two competing sources of color information (color word and ink color), only incongruent trials involve a direct conflict between task-relevant and task-irrelevant information. Although the anterior division of the ACC rostral zone exhibited conflict specific increases in neural activity (i.e., incongruent > congruent = neutral), the posterior division exhibited a more generalized pattern, increasing whenever the task-irrelevant information was color related, regardless of whether it was conflicting (i.e., incongruent and congruent > neutral). Our data thus suggest a possible functional differentiation within the ACC. As such, it is unlikely that the role of the ACC in cognitive control will be able to be accommodated by a single unifying theory.