Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of transbThe Royal Society PublishingPhilosophical Transactions BAboutBrowse By SubjectAlertsFree Trial
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1998 November 29; 353(1377): 1915–1927.
PMCID: PMC1692414

Attention, self-regulation and consciousness.


Consciousness has many aspects. These include awareness of the world, feelings of control over one's behaviour and mental state (volition), and the notion of continuing self. Focal (executive) attention is used to control details of our awareness and is thus closely related to volition. Experiments suggest an integrated network of neural areas involved in executive attention. This network is associated with our voluntary ability to select among competing items, to correct error and to regulate our emotions. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that these various functions involve separate areas of the anterior cingulate. We have adopted a strategy of using marker tasks, shown to activate the brain area by imaging studies, as a means of tracing the development of attentional networks. Executive attention appears to develop first to regulate distress during the first year of life. During later childhood the ability to regulate conflict among competing stimuli builds upon the earlier cingulate anatomy to provide a means of cognitive control. During childhood the activation of cingulate structures relates both to the child's success on laboratory tasks involving conflict and to parental reports of self-regulation and emotional control. These studies indicate a start in understanding the anatomy, circuitry and development of executive attention networks that serve to regulate both cognition and emotion.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (252K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Abdullaev YG, Bechtereva NP. Neuronal correlate of the higher-order semantic code in human prefrontal cortex in language tasks. Int J Psychophysiol. 1993 May;14(3):167–177. [PubMed]
  • Abdullaev YG, Posner MI. Event-related brain potential imaging of semantic encoding during processing single words. Neuroimage. 1998 Jan;7(1):1–13. [PubMed]
  • Badgaiyan RD, Posner MI. Mapping the cingulate cortex in response selection and monitoring. Neuroimage. 1998 Apr;7(3):255–260. [PubMed]
  • Bench CJ, Frith CD, Grasby PM, Friston KJ, Paulesu E, Frackowiak RS, Dolan RJ. Investigations of the functional anatomy of attention using the Stroop test. Neuropsychologia. 1993 Sep;31(9):907–922. [PubMed]
  • Braun AR, Balkin TJ, Wesenten NJ, Carson RE, Varga M, Baldwin P, Selbie S, Belenky G, Herscovitch P. Regional cerebral blood flow throughout the sleep-wake cycle. An H2(15)O PET study. Brain. 1997 Jul;120(Pt 7):1173–1197. [PubMed]
  • Bush G, Whalen PJ, Rosen BR, Jenike MA, McInerney SC, Rauch SL. The counting Stroop: an interference task specialized for functional neuroimaging--validation study with functional MRI. Hum Brain Mapp. 1998;6(4):270–282. [PubMed]
  • Carter CS, Mintun M, Cohen JD. Interference and facilitation effects during selective attention: an H215O PET study of Stroop task performance. Neuroimage. 1995 Dec;2(4):264–272. [PubMed]
  • Demb JB, Desmond JE, Wagner AD, Vaidya CJ, Glover GH, Gabrieli JD. Semantic encoding and retrieval in the left inferior prefrontal cortex: a functional MRI study of task difficulty and process specificity. J Neurosci. 1995 Sep;15(9):5870–5878. [PubMed]
  • Derbyshire SW, Vogt BA, Jones AK. Pain and Stroop interference tasks activate separate processing modules in anterior cingulate cortex. Exp Brain Res. 1998 Jan;118(1):52–60. [PubMed]
  • Derryberry D, Rothbart MK. Arousal, affect, and attention as components of temperament. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Dec;55(6):958–966. [PubMed]
  • Devinsky O, Morrell MJ, Vogt BA. Contributions of anterior cingulate cortex to behaviour. Brain. 1995 Feb;118(Pt 1):279–306. [PubMed]
  • Gerstadt CL, Hong YJ, Diamond A. The relationship between cognition and action: performance of children 3 1/2-7 years old on a Stroop-like day-night test. Cognition. 1994 Nov;53(2):129–153. [PubMed]
  • Iwasaki S. Spatial attention and two modes of visual consciousness. Cognition. 1993 Dec;49(3):211–233. [PubMed]
  • Jerger S, Martin RC, Pirozzolo FJ. A developmental study of the auditory Stroop effect. Brain Lang. 1988 Sep;35(1):86–104. [PubMed]
  • Lane RD, Reiman EM, Axelrod B, Yun LS, Holmes A, Schwartz GE. Neural correlates of levels of emotional awareness. Evidence of an interaction between emotion and attention in the anterior cingulate cortex. J Cogn Neurosci. 1998 Jul;10(4):525–535. [PubMed]
  • Maquet P, Péters J, Aerts J, Delfiore G, Degueldre C, Luxen A, Franck G. Functional neuroanatomy of human rapid-eye-movement sleep and dreaming. Nature. 1996 Sep 12;383(6596):163–166. [PubMed]
  • Marcel AJ. Conscious and unconscious perception: experiments on visual masking and word recognition. Cogn Psychol. 1983 Apr;15(2):197–237. [PubMed]
  • Morgan MA, Romanski LM, LeDoux JE. Extinction of emotional learning: contribution of medial prefrontal cortex. Neurosci Lett. 1993 Nov 26;163(1):109–113. [PubMed]
  • Pardo JV, Pardo PJ, Janer KW, Raichle ME. The anterior cingulate cortex mediates processing selection in the Stroop attentional conflict paradigm. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 Jan;87(1):256–259. [PubMed]
  • Posner MI. Attention: the mechanisms of consciousness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Aug 2;91(16):7398–7403. [PubMed]
  • Posner MI, Petersen SE. The attention system of the human brain. Annu Rev Neurosci. 1990;13:25–42. [PubMed]
  • Rabbitt P. Time to detect errors as a function of factors affecting choice-response time. Acta Psychol (Amst) 1967;27:131–142. [PubMed]
  • Raichle ME, Fiez JA, Videen TO, MacLeod AM, Pardo JV, Fox PT, Petersen SE. Practice-related changes in human brain functional anatomy during nonmotor learning. Cereb Cortex. 1994 Jan-Feb;4(1):8–26. [PubMed]
  • Rainville P, Duncan GH, Price DD, Carrier B, Bushnell MC. Pain affect encoded in human anterior cingulate but not somatosensory cortex. Science. 1997 Aug 15;277(5328):968–971. [PubMed]
  • Shallice T, Burgess P. The domain of supervisory processes and temporal organization of behaviour. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1996 Oct 29;351(1346):1405–1412. [PubMed]
  • Snyder AZ, Abdullaev YG, Posner MI, Raichle ME. Scalp electrical potentials reflect regional cerebral blood flow responses during processing of written words. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Feb 28;92(5):1689–1693. [PubMed]
  • Spitzer M, Bellemann ME, Kammer T, Gückel F, Kischka U, Maier S, Schwartz A, Brix G. Functional MR imaging of semantic information processing and learning-related effects using psychometrically controlled stimulation paradigms. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 1996 Oct;4(3):149–161. [PubMed]
  • Taylor SF, Kornblum S, Minoshima S, Oliver LM, Koeppe RA. Changes in medial cortical blood flow with a stimulus-response compatibility task. Neuropsychologia. 1994 Feb;32(2):249–255. [PubMed]

Articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society