The prefrontal cortex supports our ability to regulate our thoughts, our behaviors, and our emotions. It undergoes major changes across the lifespan, and it is affected by numerous psychiatric and neurological conditions. Thus, it is no surprise that much of basic and translational neuroscience research is aimed at elucidating the functions of prefrontal cortex. For the past decade, this grant has supported our investigations of the left, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), in particular. For historical reasons-dating to Paul Broca's seminal report 150 years ago of speech disturbances following damage to this region-many researchers have theorized that the left VLPFC plays a specific role in language processing. In contrast, we have argued that VLPFC does not play a role specifically in the domain of language but rather is recruited under conditions in which demands to resolve conflict between competing, incompatible representations of a stimulus are high. These findings establish a role for the VLPFC that has much more in common with that proposed for other regions of prefrontal cortex than does any language-specific account, and they have helped to establish links between the processing demands that are shared across different cognitive domains (such as language and working memory). Over the next five-year period of the project, we will shift our approach in three significantly different ways. Specifically, (1) We aim to study the impact of cognitive control in domains not traditionally associated with the frontal lobes, namely event comprehension, metaphor processing, and learning~ (2) We aim to demonstrate the benefits and costs of cognitive control for cognition~ (3) We aim to develop analytic tools for measuring novel constructs related to cognitive control. We believe the proposed research stands to have a major and sustained impact on the field, as we extend both old (biased competition) and new (costs of cognitive control) ideas into a greater number of domains and into a greater number of neural systems.
One of our most prized human faculties is our ability to control our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors, a collection of mental operations referred to as cognitive control. The goal of this project is to understand the benefits of cognitive control fo linguistic and nonlinguistic thinking, including event comprehension, metaphor processing, and learning~ in addition, we will also ask whether cognition without control is sometimes advantageous. We will combine cutting-edge brain imaging techniques in healthy volunteers with a systematic investigation of the consequences of alterations in cognitive control following chronic or transient changes to brain systems.
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