Top-down attentional control is required when subjects must attend to one of multiple conflicting stimulus features, such as in the Stroop task. Performance may be improved when such control is implemented in advance of stimulus presentation, yet few studies have examined this issue. Our investigation employed a spatial Stroop task with a manual response, allowing us to focus on the effects of preparatory attention on verbal processing when it is the less automatic attribute. A letter cue (P or W) presented for 2200 msec instructed subjects to respond on the basis of the position or meaning of a word (up, down, left, right) placed in an incongruent position relative to center. Event-related potentials recorded during pre- and poststimulus periods were analyzed as a function of reaction time to the target stimulus (fast vs. slow) in order to differentiate neural activity associated with more or less successful implementation of control. During the prestimulus period, fast responses to subsequent targets were associated with enhanced slow-wave activity over right frontal and bilateral central-parietal regions. During the poststimulus period, fast word trials were uniquely associated with an enhanced inferior temporal negativity (ITN) from 200 to 600 msec. More importantly, a correlation between frontal prestimulus activity and the poststimulus ITN suggested that frontal preparatory activity played a role in facilitating conceptual processing of the verbal stimulus when it arrived, providing an important link between preparatory attention and mechanisms that improve performance in the face of conflict.

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