Nine positron emission tomography (PET) studies of human visual information processing were reanalyzed to determine the consistency across experiments of blood flow increases during active tasks relative to passive viewing of the same stimulus array. No consistent blood flow increases were found in cerebral cortex outside of the visual system, but increases were seen in the thalamus and cerebellum. Although most tasks involve increases in arousal, establishing an intention or behavioral goal, setting up control structures for sequencing task operations, detecting targets, etc., these operations do not produce blood flow increases, detectable with the present methods, in localized cortical regions that are common across tasks. Common subcortical regions, however, may be involved.
A left cerebellar and a medial cerebellar focus reflected motor-related processes. Blood flow increases in these regions only occurred in experiments in which the subject made an overt response and were largest when the response was made in the active but not passive condition. These motor-related processes were more complex than simple motor execution, however, since increases were still present when the response was made in both the active and passive conditions. These cerebellar increases may reflect processes related to response selection.Blood flow increases in a right cerebellar region were not motor-related. Increases were not modulated by the presence or absence of motor responses during either the active or passive conditions, and increases were sensitive to within-experiment variables that held the motor response constant. Increases occurred in both language and nonlanguage tasks and appeared to involve a general nonmotor process, but the nature of that process was difficult to specify.
A right thalamic focus was sensitive to variables related to focal attention, suggesting that this region was involved in attentional engagement. Right thalamic increases were also correlated over conditions with increases in the left and medial cerebellum, perhaps reflecting additional contributions from motor-related nuclei receiving cerebellar projections.
Blood flow increases in a left thalamic focus were completely uncorrelated over conditions with increases in the right thalamus, indicating that it was involved in different functions. Both the left thalamus and right cerebellum yielded larger blood flow increases when subjects performed a complex rather than simple language task, possibly reflecting a language-related pathway. Blood flow increases in the left thalamus were also observed, however, during nonlanguage tasks.