Despite the important role that attending to novel events plays in human behavior, there is limited information about the neuroanatomical underpinnings of this vital activity. This study investigated the relative contributions of the frontal and posterior parietal lobes to the differential processing of novel and target stimuli under an experimental condition in which subjects actively directed attention to novel events. Event-related potentials were recorded from well-matched frontal patients, parietal patients, and non-brain-injured subjects who controlled their viewing duration (by button press) of line drawings that included a frequent, repetitive background stimulus, an infrequent target stimulus, and infrequent, novel visual stimuli. Subjects also responded to target stimuli by pressing a foot pedal. Damage to the frontal cortex resulted in a much greater disruption of response to novel stimuli than to designated targets. Frontal patients exhibited a widely distributed, profound reduction of the novelty P3 response and a marked diminution of the viewing duration of novel events. In contrast, damage to posterior parietal lobes was associated with a substantial reduction of both target P3 and novelty P3 amplitude; however, there was less disruption of the processing of novel than of target stimuli. We conclude that two nodes of the neuroanatomical network for responding to and processing novelty are the prefrontal and posterior parietal regions, which participate in the voluntary allocation of attention to novel events. Injury to this network is indexed by reduced novelty P3 amplitude, which is tightly associated with diminished attention to novel stimuli. The prefrontal cortex may serve as the central node in determining the allocation of attentional resources to novel events, whereas the posterior parietal lobe may provide the neural substrate for the dynamic process of updating one's internal model of the environment to take into account a novel event.

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