Brain activations during bimodal dual tasks depend on the nature and combination of component tasks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Emma Salo
  • Teemu Rinne
  • Oili Salonen
  • Kimmo Alho

Research units

  • University of Helsinki
  • Helsinki University Central Hospital
  • Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study
  • Aalto University


We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate brain activations during nine different dual tasks in which the participants were required to simultaneously attend to concurrent streams of spoken syllables and written letters. They performed a phonological, spatial or “simple” (speaker-gender or font-shade) discrimination task within each modality. We expected to find activations associated specifically with dual tasking especially in the frontal and parietal cortices. However, no brain areas showed systematic dual task enhancements common for all dual tasks. Further analysis revealed that dual tasks including component tasks that were according to Baddeley's model “modality atypical,” that is, the auditory spatial task or the visual phonological task, were not associated with enhanced frontal activity. In contrast, for other dual tasks, activity specifically associated with dual tasking was found in the left or bilateral frontal cortices. Enhanced activation in parietal areas, however, appeared not to be specifically associated with dual tasking per se, but rather with intermodal attention switching. We also expected effects of dual tasking in left frontal supramodal phonological processing areas when both component tasks required phonological processing and in right parietal supramodal spatial processing areas when both tasks required spatial processing. However, no such effects were found during these dual tasks compared with their component tasks performed separately. Taken together, the current results indicate that activations during dual tasks depend in a complex manner on specific demands of component tasks.


Original languageEnglish
Article number102
Pages (from-to)1-10
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Divided attention, Dual task, FMRI, Phonological processing, Spatial processing

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