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 theface 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.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to thank Ben Hayden, Vince McGinty, and Adrienne Mueller for helpful comments on the manuscript; and Sarah Heilbronner, Karli Watson, John Pearson, Vince McGinty, and Monica Carlson for technical assistance. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01-MH-086712 and R01-MH-089484) and the U.S. Department of Defense (W81XWH-11-1-0584).