Neuronal activity in primate dorsal anterior cingulate cortex signals task conflict and predicts adjustments in pupil-linked arousal.
Whether driving a car, shopping for food, or paying attention in a classroom of boisterous teenagers, it's often hard to maintain focus on goals in the face of distraction. Brain imaging studies in humans implicate the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) in regulating the conflict between goals and distractors. Here we show that single dACC neurons signal conflict between task goals and distractors in the rhesus macaque, particularly for biologically relevant social stimuli. For some neurons, task conflict signals predicted subsequent changes in pupil size-a peripheral index of arousal linked to noradrenergic tone-associated with reduced distractor interference. dACC neurons also responded to errors, and these signals predicted adjustments in pupil size. These findings provide the first neurophysiological endorsement of the hypothesis that dACC regulates conflict, in part, via modulation of pupil-linked processes such as arousal.
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