Abstract To examine the spatiotemporal differences of brain activation during mental tasks, changes in the oxygenation and hemodynamics in two regions of the prefrontal cortex were measured simultaneously by near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Subjects were eight healthy adults who attempted to solve three different mathematical problems. The behavior of concentration changes in oxy-, deoxy-, and total hemoglobin in one brain region varied with the time course (more than 10 min). This suggested that regional brain activity varied during the performance of the mental task. In each single subject, the pattern of these changes varied with each problem, and this variation differed from subject to subject. When NIRS traces in two regions were compared, it was seen that activated regions moved alternatively: when in one region total hemoglobin that had first increased returned to the resting level, in the other it started to increase. These region-dependent temporal variations of brain activity might reflect mental processes. It is thus concluded that NIRS has the potential for imaging the sequence of brain activation.