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Front. Integr. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnint.2018.00008

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

  • 1Dept. of Philosophy, Social, Human & Educational Sciences, University of Perugia, Italy
  • 2Fondazione Santa Lucia (IRCCS), Italy

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 versus a condition in which participants monitored two stimuli/modalities (both visual and auditory) in one spatial location. The analysis of the independent components 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 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 and intraparietal sulci, plus nodes belonging to the salience network, i.e., the anterior cingulated cortex and the left and right anterior insular cortex. 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 large-scale brain networks supporting complex behavior.

Keywords: divided attention, frontoparietal, Central executive, salience, network, independent component analysis (ICA), Granger, causality

Received: 21 Dec 2017; Accepted: 12 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Elizabeth B. Torres, Rutgers University, United States

Reviewed by:

Britt Anderson, University of Waterloo, Canada
Yifeng Wang, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, China  

Copyright: © 2018 Santangelo. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Valerio Santangelo, University of Perugia, Dept. of Philosophy, Social, Human & Educational Sciences, Piazza G. Ermini, 1, Perugia, 06123, Italy,