Conflict-related activity in the caudal anterior cingulate cortex in the absence of awareness

Stefan Ursu, Kristi A. Clark, Howard J. Aizenstein, V. Andrew Stenger, Cameron S Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The caudal anterior cingulate cortex (cACC) is thought to be involved in performance monitoring, as conflict and error-related activity frequently co-localize in this area. Recent results suggest that these effects may be differentially modulated by awareness. To clarify the role of awareness in performance monitoring by the cACC, we used rapid event-related fMRI to examine the cACC activity while subjects performed a dual task: a delayed recognition task and a serial response task (SRT) with an implicit probabilistic learning rule (i.e. the stimulus location followed a probabilistic sequence of which the subjects were unaware). Task performance confirmed that the location sequence was learned implicitly. Even though we found no evidence of awareness for the presence of the sequence, imaging data revealed increased cACC activity during correct trials which violated the sequence (high-conflict), relative to trials when stimuli followed the sequence (low conflict). Errors made with awareness also activated the same brain region. These results suggest that the performance monitoring function of the cACC extends beyond detection of errors made with or without awareness, and involves detection of multiple responses even when they are outside of awareness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-286
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Conflict monitoring
  • Error detection
  • Implicit learning
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Serial response task
  • Unconscious representations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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