Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Time processing may shape behavior in several ways, although the underlying neural correlates are still poorly understood. When preparatory intervals between stimuli vary randomly in a block, for instance, responses are faster as the interval gets longer. This effect, known as variable foreperiod (FP) effect, has been attributed to a process monitoring the conditional probability of stimulus occurrence as the interval increases. Previous evidence points to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) as a possible node for this time-monitoring process. The present study addresses this hypothesis with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Block-design fMRI was used on 14 young participants while they performed a visual discrimination task with fixed and variable preparatory intervals (FPs) of 1 and 3 sec. In the variable versus fixed FP contrast, the right DLPFC and a visual area were more activated in the subgroup of participants who showed a reliable variable FP effect than in another subgroup who did not show that effect. Only the activation in the right DLPFC was supported by a significant interaction between FP condition (variable vs. fixed) and group. This finding may reflect possible differences in the strategy adopted by the two subgroups of participants while performing the task. Although results suggest that many brain areas may be involved in preparation over time, the role of the right DLPFC is critical to observe the strategically mediated behavioral effects in the variable FP paradigm.