Brain activity during divided and selective attention to auditory and visual sentence comprehension tasks

Mona Moisala, Viljami Salmela, Emma Salo, Synnove Carlson, Virve Vuontela, Oili Salonen, Kimmo Alho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured brain activity of human participants while they performed a sentence congruence judgment task in either the visual or auditory modality separately, or in both modalities simultaneously. Significant performance decrements were observed when attention was divided between the two modalities compared with when one modality was selectively attended. Compared with selective attention (i.e., single tasking), divided attention (i.e., dual-tasking) did not recruit additional cortical regions, but resulted in increased activity in medial and lateral frontal regions which were also activated by the component tasks when performed separately. Areas involved in semantic language processing were revealed predominantly in the left lateral prefrontal cortex by contrasting incongruent with congruent sentences. These areas also showed significant activity increases during divided attention in relation to selective attention. In the sensory cortices, no crossmodal inhibition was observed during divided attention when compared with selective attention to one modality. Our results suggest that the observed performance decrements during dual-tasking are due to interference of the two tasks because they utilize the same part of the cortex. Moreover, semantic dual-tasking did not appear to recruit additional brain areas in comparison with single tasking, and no crossmodal inhibition was observed during intermodal divided attention.
Original languageEnglish
Article number86
Pages (from-to)1-15
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • dual-tasking
  • divided attention
  • selective attention
  • functional MRI
  • semantic processing


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