Anterior cingulate cortex and conflict detection: An update of theory and data
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The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and associated regions of the medial frontal wall have often been hypothesized to play an important role in cognitive control. We have proposed that the ACC’s specific role in cognitive control is to detect conflict between simultaneously active, competing representations and to engage the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) to resolve such conflict. Here we review some of the evidence supporting this theory, from event-related potential (ERP) and fMRI studies. We focus on data obtained from interference tasks, such as the Stroop task, and review the evidence that trial-to-trial changes in control engagement can be understood as driven by conflict detection; the data suggest that levels of activation of the ACC and the DLPFC in such tasks do indeed reflect conflict and control, respectively. We also discuss some discrepant results in the literature that highlight the need for future research.