Large-scale brain networks supporting divided attention across spatial locations and sensory modalities

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Higher-order cognitive processes were shown to rely on the interplay between large-scale neural networks. However, brain networks involved with the capability to split attentional resource over multiple spatial locations and multiple stimuli or sensory modalities have been largely unexplored to date. Here I re-analyzed data from Santangelo et al. (2010) to explore the causal interactions between large-scale brain networks during divided attention. During fMRI scanning, participants monitored streams of visual and/or auditory stimuli in one or two spatial locations for detection of occasional targets. This design allowed comparing a condition in which participants monitored one stimulus/modality (either visual or auditory) in two spatial locations vs. a condition in which participants monitored two stimuli/modalities (both visual and auditory) in one spatial location. The analysis of the independent components (ICs) revealed that dividing attentional resources across two spatial locations necessitated a brain network involving the left ventro- and dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex plus the posterior parietal cortex, including the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and the angular gyrus, bilaterally. The analysis of Granger causality highlighted that the activity of lateral prefrontal regions were predictive of the activity of all of the posteriors parietal nodes. By contrast, dividing attention across two sensory modalities necessitated a brain network including nodes belonging to the dorsal frontoparietal network, i.e., the bilateral frontal eye-fields (FEF) and IPS, plus nodes belonging to the salience network, i.e., the anterior cingulated cortex and the left and right anterior insular cortex (aIC). The analysis of Granger causality highlights a tight interdependence between the dorsal frontoparietal and salience nodes in trials requiring divided attention between different sensory modalities. The current findings therefore highlighted a dissociation among brain networks implicated during divided attention across spatial locations and sensory modalities, pointing out the importance of investigating effective connectivity of largescale brain networks supporting complex behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Causality
  • Central executive
  • Divided attention
  • Frontoparietal
  • Granger
  • Independent component analysis (ICA)
  • Network
  • Salience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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