Attention, emotion, and deactivation of default activity in inferior medial prefrontal cortex

Jacob Geday, Albert Gjedde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Attention deactivates the inferior medial prefrontal cortex (IMPC), but it is uncertain if emotions can attenuate this deactivation. To test the extent to which common emotions interfere with attention, we measured changes of a blood flow index of brain activity in key areas of the IMPC with positron emission tomography (PET) of labeled water (H215 O) uptake in brain of 14 healthy subjects. The subjects performed either a less demanding or a more demanding task of attention while they watched neutral and emotive images of people in realistic indoor or outdoor situations. In the less demanding task, subjects used the index finger to press any key when a new image appeared. In the more demanding task, subjects chose the index or middle finger to press separate keys for outdoor and indoor scenes. Compared to the less demanding task, in a global search of all gray matter, the more demanding significantly lowered blood flow (rCBF) in left IMPC, left and right insula, and right amygdala, and significantly raised blood flow in motor cortex and right precuneus. Restricted searches of rCBF changes by emotion, at coordinates of significant effect in previous studies of the medial prefrontal and temporal cortices, revealed significant activation in the fusiform gyrus, independently of the task. In contrast, we found no effect of emotional content in the IMPC, where emotions failed to override the effect of the task. The results are consistent with a role of the IMPC in the selection among competitive inputs from multiple brain regions, as predicted by the theory of a default mode of brain function. The absent emotional interference with the deactivation of the default state suggests that the inferior prefrontal cortex continued to serve the attention rather than submit to the distraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-352
Number of pages9
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Attention
  • Attentional demand
  • Emotion
  • Inferior medial prefrontal cortex
  • Task-complexity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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