The neural correlates of volitional attention: A combined fMRI and ERP study

Jesse J. Bengson, Todd A. Kelley, George R Mangun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Studies of visual-spatial attention typically use instructional cues to direct attention to a relevant location, but in everyday vision, attention is often focused volitionally, in the absence of external signals. Although investigations of cued attention comprise hundreds of behavioral and physiological studies, remarkably few studies of voluntary attention have addressed the challenging question of how spatial attention is initiated and controlled in the absence of external instructions, which we refer to as willed attention. To explore this question, we employed a trial-by-trial spatial attention task using electroencephalography and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI results reveal a unique network of brain regions for willed attention that includes the anterior cingulate cortex, left middle frontal gyrus (MFG), and the left and right anterior insula (AI). We also observed two event-related potentials (ERPs) associated with willed attention; one with a frontal distribution occurring 250-350 ms postdecision cue onset (EWAC: Early Willed Attention Component), and another occurring between 400 and 800 ms postdecision-cue onset (WAC: Willed Attention Component). In addition, each ERP component uniquely correlated across subjects with different willed attention-specific sites of BOLD activation. The EWAC was correlated with the willed attention-specific left AI and left MFG activations and the later WAC was correlated only with left AI. These results offer a comprehensive and novel view of the electrophysiological and anatomical profile of willed attention and further illustrate the relationship between scalp-recorded ERPs and the BOLD response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2443-2454
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Attention
  • Decisions
  • EEG
  • ERPs
  • FMRI
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anatomy
  • Neurology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology


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