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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Two independent frontal midline theta oscillations during conflict detection and adaptation in a Simon-type manual reaching task

  • Author(s): Töllner, T
  • Wang, Y
  • Makeig, S
  • Müller, HJ
  • Jung, TP
  • Gramann, K
  • et al.

© 2017 the authors. One of the most firmly established factors determining the speed of human behavioral responses toward action-critical stimuli is the spatial correspondence between the stimulus and response locations. If both locations match, the time taken for response production is markedly reduced relative to when they mismatch, a phenomenon called the Simon effect. While there is a consensus that this stimulus-response (S-R) conflict is associated with brief (4-7 Hz) frontal midline theta (fmθ) complexes generated in medial frontal cortex, it remains controversial (1) whether there are multiple, simultaneously active theta generator areas in the medial frontal cortex that commonly give rise to conflict-related fmθ complexes; and if so, (2) whether they are all related to the resolution of conflicting task information. Here, we combined mental chronometry with high-density electroencephalographic measures during a Simon-type manual reaching task and used independent component analysis and time-frequency domain statistics on source-level activities to model fmθ sources. During target processing, our results revealed two independent fmθ generators simultaneously active in or near anterior cingulate cortex, only one of them reflecting the correspondence between current and previous S-R locations. However, this fmθ response is not exclusively linked to conflict but also to other, conflict-independent processes associated with response slowing. These results paint a detailed picture regarding the oscillatory correlates of conflict processing in Simon tasks, and challenge the prevalent notion that fmθ complexes induced by conflicting task information represent a unitary phenomenon related to cognitive control, which governs conflict processing across various types of response-override tasks.

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