Regional brain differences in the effect of distraction during the delay interval of a working memory task

Florin Dolcos, Brian Miller, Philip Kragel, Amishi Jha, Gregory McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Working memory (WM) comprises operations whose coordinated action contributes to our ability to maintain focus on goal-relevant information in the presence of distraction. The present study investigated the nature of distraction upon the neural correlates of WM maintenance operations by presenting task-irrelevant distracters during the interval between the memoranda and probes of a delayed-response WM task. The study used a region of interest (ROIs) approach to investigate the role of anterior (e.g., lateral and medial prefrontal cortex - PFC) and posterior (e.g., parietal and fusiform cortices) brain regions that have been previously associated with WM operations. Behavioral results showed that distracters that were confusable with the memorandum impaired WM performance, compared to either the presence of non-confusable distracters or to the absence of distracters. These different levels of distraction led to differences in the regional patterns of delay interval activity measured with event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In the anterior ROIs, dorsolateral PFC activation was associated with WM encoding and maintenance, and in maintaining a preparatory state, and ventrolateral PFC activation was associated with the inhibition of distraction. In the posterior ROIs, activation of the posterior parietal and fusiform cortices was associated with WM and perceptual processing, respectively. These findings provide novel evidence concerning the neural systems mediating the cognitive and behavioral responses during distraction, and places frontal cortex at the top of the hierarchy of the neural systems responsible for cognitive control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-181
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 4 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Declarative memory
  • Functional neuroimaging
  • Interference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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