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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

August 2006, Vol. 18, No. 8, Pages 1331-1342
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.8.1331)
© 2006 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Automaticity and Reestablishment of Executive Control—An fMRI Study
Article PDF (455.02 KB)

The ability to exert control over automatic behavior is of particular importance as it allows us to interrupt our behavior when the automatic response is no longer adequate or even dangerous. However, despite the literature that exists on the effects of practice on brain activation, little is known about the neuroanatomy involved in reestablishing executive control over previously automatized behavior. We present a visual search task that enabled participants to automatize according to defined criteria within about 3 hr of practice and then required them to reassert control without changing the stimulus set. We found widespread cortical activation early in practice. Activation in all frontal areas and in the inferior parietal lobule decreased significantly with practice. Only selected prefrontal (Brodmann's areas [BAs] 9/46/8) and parietal areas (BAs 39/40) were specifically reactivated when executive control was required, underlining the crucial role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in executive control to guide our behavior.