This proposal explores the neural and psychological mechanisms of cognitive control. Control processes are thought to be an important component of a number of cognitive domains, including attention, working memory, inhibition, episodic memory, categorization, and decision making. Moreover, impairments in cognitive control function are a major component of both psychiatric disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, drug addiction) and healthy aging. A large body of work suggests that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a key neural substrate of cognitive control. However, progress in theoretical specification of the mechanisms underlying cognitive control has been slow. The work we propose is a direct extension of our previous efforts to understand and develop explicit models of cognitive control in terms of PFC function and its interaction with other brain structures. We put forth the hypothesis that cognitive control operates in two distinct modes - proactive and reactive - where each is subserved by a separate set of mechanisms. The proactive control mode prepares the cognitive system for upcoming events through the top-down biasing effects of actively sustained PFC representations. The reactive control mode is engaged on as-needed basis, enabling the cognitive system to appropriately respond to imperative events via transient reactivation of PFC, or via retrieval of information stored in posterior cortex and hippocampus. Performance in most cognitive tasks is postulated to rely upon a mixture of proactive and reactive control, but biases towards one mode or another can be influenced by a number of different factors, including: a) specific (and often times subtle) characteristics of the task situation; b) impaired function in the neural systems underlying one mode or another; and c) individual differences in cognitive capabilities and motivation. These hypotheses will be tested in an integrated series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies (using state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging methods) examining effects of cognitive control mode on brain activation and performance across a wide range of cognitive domains, in both young and older adults, and in relation to individual difference variables. Success in this work would represent a significant theoretical advance, by clarifying the causes and consequences of how control over cognition is achieved. More practically, this project has the potential to provide critical information regarding the neural and psychological bases of both the transient lapses and sustained impairments in cognitive control suffered by both healthy individuals and clinical populations. Such knowledge could be used to drive the development of more effective interventions. ? ? ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Biobehavioral and Behavioral Processes 3 (BBBP)
Program Officer
Anderson, Kathleen C
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Washington University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Saint Louis
United States
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Cole, Michael W; Patrick, Lauren M; Meiran, Nachshon et al. (2018) A role for proactive control in rapid instructed task learning. Acta Psychol (Amst) 184:20-30
Yee, Debbie M; Braver, Todd S (2018) Interactions of Motivation and Cognitive Control. Curr Opin Behav Sci 19:83-90
Cole, Michael W; Braver, Todd S; Meiran, Nachshon (2017) The task novelty paradox: Flexible control of inflexible neural pathways during rapid instructed task learning. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 81:4-15
Chiew, Kimberly S; Braver, Todd S (2016) Reward favors the prepared: Incentive and task-informative cues interact to enhance attentional control. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 42:52-66
Cole, Michael W; Ito, Takuya; Braver, Todd S (2015) Lateral Prefrontal Cortex Contributes to Fluid Intelligence Through Multinetwork Connectivity. Brain Connect 5:497-504
Chiew, Kimberly S; Braver, Todd S (2014) Dissociable influences of reward motivation and positive emotion on cognitive control. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 14:509-29
Chiew, Kimberly S; Braver, Todd S (2013) Temporal dynamics of motivation-cognitive control interactions revealed by high-resolution pupillometry. Front Psychol 4:15
Westbrook, Andrew; Kester, Daria; Braver, Todd S (2013) What is the subjective cost of cognitive effort? Load, trait, and aging effects revealed by economic preference. PLoS One 8:e68210
Etzel, Joset A; Zacks, Jeffrey M; Braver, Todd S (2013) Searchlight analysis: promise, pitfalls, and potential. Neuroimage 78:261-9
Jimura, Koji; Chushak, Maria S; Braver, Todd S (2013) Impulsivity and self-control during intertemporal decision making linked to the neural dynamics of reward value representation. J Neurosci 33:344-57

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