People are capable, at will, of trading speed for accuracy when performing a task; they can focus on performing accurately at the cost of being slow, or emphasize speed at the cost of decreased accuracy. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the neural correlates of this ability. We show increased baseline activity during speed emphasis in a network of areas related to response preparation and execution, including the premotor areas of the frontal lobe, the basal ganglia, the thalamus, and the dorsolateral prefrontal and left parietal cortices. Furthermore, speed emphasis was associated with reduced transient response-related activation in several of these structures, suggesting that because of the greater baseline activity under speed emphasis, less activation is needed in these structures to reach response threshold, consistent with the assumptions of several computational theories. Moreover, we identify the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as providing the top-down control signal that increases this baseline activity.

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