Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The flanker task, introduced by Eriksen and Eriksen [Eriksen, B. A., & Eriksen, C. W. (1974). Effects of noise letters upon the identification of a target letter in a nonsearch task. Perception & Psychophysics, 16, 143-149], provides a means to selectively manipulate the presence or absence of response competition while keeping other task demands constant. We measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of the flanker task. In accordance with previous behavioral studies, trials in which the flanking stimuli indicated a different response than the central stimulus were performed significantly more slowly than trials in which all the stimuli indicated the same response. This reaction time effect was accompanied by increases in activity in four regions: the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the supplementary motor area, the left superior parietal lobe, and the left anterior parietal cortex. The increases were not due to changes in stimulus complexity or the need to overcome previously learned associations between stimuli and responses. Correspondences between this study and other experiments manipulating response interference suggest that the frontal foci may be related to response inhibition processes whereas the posterior foci may be related to the activation of representations of the inappropriate responses.