Attention for speaking: domain-general control from the anterior cingulate cortex in spoken word production


Accumulating evidence suggests that some degree of attentional control is required to regulate and monitor processes underlying speaking. Although progress has been made in delineating the neural substrates of the core language processes involved in speaking, substrates associated with regulatory and monitoring processes have remained relatively underspecified. We report the results of an fMRI study examining the neural substrates related to performance in three attention-demanding tasks varying in the amount of linguistic processing: vocal picture naming while ignoring distractors (picture-word interference, PWI); vocal color naming while ignoring distractors (Stroop); and manual object discrimination while ignoring spatial position (Simon task). All three tasks had congruent and incongruent stimuli, while PWI and Stroop also had neutral stimuli. Analyses focusing on common activation across tasks identified a portion of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) that was active in incongruent trials for all three tasks, suggesting that this region subserves a domain-general attentional control function. In the language tasks, this area showed increased activity for incongruent relative to congruent stimuli, consistent with the involvement of domain-general mechanisms of attentional control in word production. The two language tasks also showed activity in anterior-superior temporal gyrus (STG). Activity increased for neutral PWI stimuli (picture and word did not share the same semantic category) relative to incongruent (categorically related) and congruent stimuli. This finding is consistent with the involvement of language-specific areas in word production, possibly related to retrieval of lexical-semantic information from memory. The current results thus suggest that in addition to engaging language-specific areas for core linguistic processes, speaking also engages the ACC, a region that is likely implementing domain-general attentional control.

In: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, (7), 832