Who comes first? The role of the prefrontal and parietal cortex in cognitive control.

Cognitive control processes enable us to adjust our behavior to changing environmental demands. Although neuropsychological studies suggest that the critical cortical region for cognitive control is the prefrontal cortex, neuro-imaging studies have emphasized the interplay of prefrontal and parietal cortices. This raises the fundamental question about the different contributions of prefrontal and parietal areas in cognitive control. It was assumed that the prefrontal cortex biases processing in posterior brain regions. This assumption leads to the hypothesis that neural activity in the prefrontal cortex should precede parietal activity in cognitive control. The present study tested this assumption by combining results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) providing high spatial resolution and event-related potentials (ERPs) to gain high temporal resolution. We collected ERP data using a modified task-switching paradigm. In this paradigm, a situation where the same task was indicated by two different cues was compared with a situation where two cues indicated different tasks. Only the latter condition required updating of the task set. Task-set updating was associated with a midline negative ERP deflection peaking around 470 msec. We placed dipoles in regions activated in a previous fMRI study that used the same paradigm (left inferior frontal junction, right inferior frontal gyrus, right parietal cortex) and fitted their directions and magnitudes to the ERP effect. The frontal dipoles contributed to the ERP effect earlier than the parietal dipole, providing support for the view that the prefrontal cortex is involved in updating of general task representations and biases relevant stimulus-response associations in the parietal cortex.

Selected Publications

Marcel Brass, Markus Ullsperger, Thomas R. Knösche, D. Yves von Cramon, and N. A. Phillips, "Who comes first? The role of the prefrontal and parietal cortex in cognitive control," Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 17 (9), 1367-1375 (2005).

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