The current view of the neural substrate of attention distinguishes between two major brain systems guiding deployment, maintenance, focusing, and division of attention: a posterior system mainly devoted to selective deployment and disengagement of visual attention and an anterior system that is responsible for division of attention among multiple cognitive processes. The anterior cortical attentional system comprises dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate gyrus and is critical for executive control of attention, including control of its motivational aspects. The posterior attentional system involves a network of cortical and subcortical components, such as the superior and inferior parietal lobules, secondary association cortices in visual and auditory modalities, and the subcortical pathways guiding saccadic eye movements. A dense network of neural connections between the two systems led to an understanding that they cannot operate in isolation but act as parts of an integrated entity.

Age differences in focused and divided attention appear to stem not only from quantitative declines in the magnitude of cerebral activation but also from discrepancies in the patterns of cortical activation. The younger subjects activate the brain circuitry that subserves specific visual attention processing, whereas their older counterparts appear to increase engagement of the anterior, general attention system while failing to deactivate the regions usually not associated with attentional control.

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