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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Gregory S. Berns; Fax: +1 404 727 3233; Email: gberns@emory.edu

Acknowledgments: We thank the Biomedical Imaging Technology Center at Emory University, especially Keith Heberlein and Robert Smith for their technical assistance during scanning sessions.

We also thank Rosa Aurora Chavez-Eakle for helpful comments and Carles Escera for providing sound stimuli.

Novel sounds were also selected from various websites: a1freesoundeffects.com, soundamerica.com, simplythebest.com, and cepl.nyspi.org.


Research Funding:

This work was gratefully supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, DA00367 and DA016434 to G.S.B. and F31 MH067348 to C.F.Z.

Human striatal activation reflects degree of stimulus saliency


Journal Title:



Volume 29, Number 3


, Pages 977-983

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Salient stimuli are characterized by their capability to perturb and seize available cognitive resources. Although the striatum and its dopaminergic inputs respond to a variety of stimuli categorically defined as salient, including rewards, the relationship between striatal activity and saliency is not well understood. Specifically, it is unclear if the striatum responds in an all-or-none fashion to salient events or instead responds in a graded fashion to the degree of saliency associated with an event. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured activity in the brains of 20 participants performing a visual classification task in which they identified single digits as odd or even numbers. An auditory tone preceded each number, which was occasionally, and unexpectedly, substituted by a novel sound. The novel sounds varied in their ability to interrupt and reallocate cognitive resources (i.e., their saliency) as measured by a delay in reaction time to immediately subsequent numerical task-stimuli. The present findings demonstrate that striatal activity increases proportionally to the degree to which an unexpected novel sound interferes with the current cognitive focus, even in the absence of reward. These results suggest that activity in the human striatum reflects the level of saliency associated with a stimulus, perhaps providing a signal to reallocate limited resources to important events.

Copyright information:

© 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Generic License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/).

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