Preceding attention and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex: Process specificity versus domain dependence

Martin Walter, Christian Matthiä, Christine Wiebking, Michael Rotte, Claus Tempelmann, Bernhard Bogerts, Hans Jochen Heinze, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) has been shown to be involved in attending different states, all including a strong emotional component. It remains unclear, though, whether neural activity in the DMPFC is predominantly determined by either a particular domain, as emotional stimuli, or by a specific process, as attention. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to test the alternative hypotheses of domain- versus process-specificity in DMPFC. Subjects had to perceive pictures from three different domains, sexual, emotional, and neutral stimuli, in both a nonattended, i.e., unexpected, and attended, i.e., expected mode. Our results show DMPFC activation during attended, i.e., expected stimulus perception when compared with nonattended, i.e., unexpected stimuli perception. DMPFC activation and corresponding behavioral changes (reaction time, subjective ratings) "were observed in all three domains, sexual, emotional, and neutral stimuli. As opposed to those process-specific effects that were found predominantly in posterior DMPFC, a process by domain interaction was found to be characteristic for more anterior parts of the DMPFC. Taken together, our findings favour the hypothesis that neural activity in the posterior DMPFC is determined by a specific process, i.e., attending stimuli, and thus characterized by process-specificity rather than by a particular domain, i.e., sexual, emotional, or neutral stimuli, reflecting domain-specificity. This suggests that the anterior and posterior DMPFC is involved in the process of attending mental states while remaining more (posterior DMPFC) or less (anterior DMPFC) independent of the type or domain of the respective stimulus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-326
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • Emotion
  • Expectancy
  • fMRI
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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