Flexible neural mechanisms of cognitive control within human prefrontal cortex

Todd S. Braver, Jessica L. Paxton, Hannah S. Locke, Deanna M. Barch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

456 Scopus citations


A major challenge in research on executive control is to reveal its functional decomposition into underlying neural mechanisms. A typical assumption is that this decomposition occurs solely through anatomically based dissociations. Here we tested an alternative hypothesis that different cognitive control processes may be implemented within the same brain regions, with fractionation and dissociation occurring on the basis of temporal dynamics. Regions within lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) were examined that, in a prior study, exhibited contrasting temporal dynamics between older and younger adults during performance of the AX-CPT cognitive control task. The temporal dynamics in younger adults fit a proactive control pattern (primarily cue-based activation), whereas in older adults a reactive control pattern was found (primarily probe- based activation). In the current study, we found that following a period of task-strategy training, these older adults exhibited a proactive shift within a subset of the PFC regions, normalizing their activity dynamics toward young adult patterns. Conversely, under conditions of penalty-based monetary incentives, the younger adults exhibited a reactive shift some of the same regions, altering their temporal dynamics toward the older adult baseline pattern. These experimentally induced crossover patterns of temporal dynamics provide strong support for dual modes of cognitive control that can be flexibly shifted within PFC regions, via modulation of neural responses to changing task conditions or behavioral goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7351-7356
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 5 2009


  • Dorsolateral pfc
  • Event-related fmri
  • Inhibition
  • Interference control working memory


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