fMRI identifies chronotype-specific brain activation associated with attention to motion: why we need to know when subjects go to bed

Martina Reske, Jessica Rosenberg, Sabrina Plapp, Thilo Kellermann, N. Jon Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Human cognition relies on attentional capacities which, among others, are influenced by factors like tiredness or mood. Based on their inherent preferences in sleep and wakefulness, individuals can be classified as specific "chronotypes". The present study investigated how early, intermediate and late chronotypes (EC, IC, LC) differ neurally on an attention-to-motion task.Twelve EC, 18 IC and 17 LC were included into the study. While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, subjects looked at vertical bars in an attention-to-motion task. In the STATIONARY condition, subjects focused on a central fixation cross. During Fix-MOVING and Attend-MOVING, bars were moving horizontally. Only during the Attend-MOVING, subjects were required to attend to changes in the velocity of bars and indicate those by button presses. A two-way repeated measures ANOVA probed group by attentional load effects.The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), insula and anterior cingulate cortex showed group by attention specific activations. Specifically, EC and LC presented attenuated DLPFC activation under high attentional load (Attend-MOVING), while EC showed less anterior insula activation than IC. LC compared to IC exhibited attenuation of superior parietal cortex.Our study reveals that individual sleep preferences are associated with characteristic brain activation in areas crucial for attention and bodily awareness. These results imply that considering sleep preferences in neuroimaging studies is crucial when administering cognitive tasks. Our study also has socio-economic implications. Task performance in non-optimal times of the day (e.g. shift workers), may result in cognitive impairments leading to e.g. increased error rates and slower reaction times.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-610
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Chronotype
  • FMRI
  • Wakefulness

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