Performance-related activity in medial rostral prefrontal cortex (area 10) during low-demand tasks.
Neuroimaging studies have frequently observed relatively high activity in medial rostral prefrontal cortex (PFC) during rest or baseline conditions. Some accounts have attributed this high activity to the occurrence of unconstrained stimulus-independent and task-unrelated thought processes during baseline conditions. Here, the authors investigated the alternative possibility that medial rostral PFC supports attention toward the external environment during low-demand conditions. Participants performed a baseline simple reaction time (RT) task, along with 3 other tasks that differed in the requirement to attend to external stimuli versus stimulus-independent thought. Medial rostral PFC activation was observed in the baseline task and in a condition requiring strong engagement with external stimuli, relative to 2 conditions with a greater requirement for stimulus-independent thought. An important finding was that activity in this region was associated with faster RTs in the baseline task, ruling out an explanation in terms of task-unrelated thought processes during this condition. Thus, at least under certain circumstances, medial rostral PFC appears to support attention toward the external environment, facilitating performance in situations that do not require extensive processing of experimental stimuli.