Changes in physiological arousal frequently accompany cognitive performance. Many studies sought to identify the neural correlates of heightened arousal as indexed by skin conductance responses (SCR). However, the observed regional activations may be confounded by task events. We addressed this issue by recording SCR in 25 adults performing a stop signal task (SST) during functional magnetic resonance imaging. We compared only go trials with high and low SCR in order to isolate the event-independent processes. Furthermore, we distinguished go trials that followed another go, a stop success, or a stop error trial to examine whether the neural activities are contingent on the local context in which changes in SCR occurred. The results showed that the supplementary motor area responded to increased SCR irrespective of the preceding trial. The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex increased activation to heightened arousal most significantly in response to stop errors. The medial prefrontal cortex increased activation to SCR following a stop error but decreased activation following a go or stop success trial. These new findings specify the regional activations that accompany changes in physiological arousal during the SST and support distinct processes for the changes that occur under different local contexts. In particular, the MPFC shows opposing responses by increasing activation to changes in arousal evoked by salient stimuli and decreasing activation to the control of arousal. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
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