The overall purpose of our research program is to understand the brain mechanisms of cognitive control, the ability to flexibly adapt thoughts and behavior in line with internal goals. Work in the previous grant period has focused on how conflicts in information processing (e.g., uncertainty over how to best steer into your intended lane at a busy intersection) can lead to an immediate re-focusing of attention on the task at hand (conflict- control). In this renewal application, we ask broadly: what happens the next time you approach that intersection? Will you remember your previous difficulties and approach it with a heightened focus of attention to start with? This type of interaction between cognitive control and memory processes pervades our daily lives, and a failure to appropriately match situational demands with attentional states is a key feature of many debilitating psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. However, how associations are formed between cues (e.g., the intersection) and appropriate control states, and what the consequences are of different control operations for subsequent memory, is presently poorly understood, owing in part to control being defined historically in opposition to well-learned responses (""""""""will vs. habit""""""""). Therefore, the goal of this proposal is to characterize the interaction of cognitive control and associative processes in order to improve current models of how the brain supports adaptive behavior, and to enable new approaches for understanding failures of cognitive control in the clinical domain. To this end, we examine control-memory interactions from two directions: first, specific aim 1 investigates how learning drives the allocation of cognitive control. In other words how does the busy intersection become associated with a heightened control state? We use computational modeling, fMRI, and fMRI-guided TMS approaches to characterize how the brain learns to adapt control settings to changing demands (study 1), and to directly contrast the neural mechanisms that link cues to control states (context-control learning) with those supporting classic stimulus-stimulus and stimulus- response learning (studies 2 and 3). Second, specific aim 2 characterizes how cognitive control processes affect memory. E.g., are you more likely to remember key details about the intersection after you had to overcome difficulty there? Specifically, we will assess the impact of three crucial cognitive control operations (conflict-control, updating, and response inhibition) on memory encoding, by having participants perform these operations on different stimuli and subsequently testing their recognition of these stimuli i surprise memory tests (studies 4-6). Pairing this approach with fMRI allows us to parse the brain mechanisms that link specific control operations to memory by contrasting the neural signatures of successful (subsequently remembered) vs. unsuccessful (subsequently forgotten) encoding of task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli as a function of control state. This innovative projec is set to significantly improve our understanding of how the human brain facilitates context-sensitive, controlled behavior, and to gain insight into how this ability may fail.

Public Health Relevance

This research proposal aims to enhance our understanding of the way in which the brain supports cognitive control, the ability to flexibly adapt one's thoughts and behavior to suit one's current goals, which is presently not well-understood, even though deficits in this ability underlie some of the most debilitating symptoms of common psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, such as schizophrenia and dementia. One particularly significant gap in our current knowledge is that we do not have a good understanding of how cognitive control processes interact with the processes of learning and memory;for instance, how does the brain learn to link a particular situation, such as a busy intersection we encounter on our daily commute, with the need to impose stronger cognitive control over our behavior (in order to avoid accidents)? In the proposed project, we combine the assessment and computational modeling of control- and learning-related behavior in healthy human participants with noninvasive measurement and manipulation of concomitant brain activity, in order to answer the important questions of how learning affects cognitive control, and how cognitive control influences what we remember.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Rossi, Andrew
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Duke University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Bejjani, Christina; Zhang, Ziwei; Egner, Tobias (2018) Control by association: Transfer of implicitly primed attentional states across linked stimuli. Psychon Bull Rev 25:617-626
Whitehead, Peter S; Egner, Tobias (2018) Cognitive control over prospective task-set interference. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 44:741-755
Braem, Senne; Egner, Tobias (2018) Getting a grip on cognitive flexibility. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 27:470-476
Muhle-Karbe, Paul S; Jiang, Jiefeng; Egner, Tobias (2018) Causal Evidence for Learning-Dependent Frontal Lobe Contributions to Cognitive Control. J Neurosci 38:962-973
Chiu, Yu-Chin; Jiang, Jiefeng; Egner, Tobias (2017) The Caudate Nucleus Mediates Learning of Stimulus-Control State Associations. J Neurosci 37:1028-1038
Qiao, Lei; Zhang, Lijie; Chen, Antao et al. (2017) Dynamic Trial-by-Trial Recoding of Task-Set Representations in the Frontoparietal Cortex Mediates Behavioral Flexibility. J Neurosci 37:11037-11050
Dowd, Emma Wu; Pearson, John M; Egner, Tobias (2017) Decoding working memory content from attentional biases. Psychon Bull Rev 24:1252-1260
Kiyonaga, Anastasia; Dowd, Emma Wu; Egner, Tobias (2017) Neural Representation of Working Memory Content Is Modulated by Visual Attentional Demand. J Cogn Neurosci 29:2011-2024
Braem, Senne; King, Joseph A; Korb, Franziska M et al. (2017) The Role of Anterior Cingulate Cortex in the Affective Evaluation of Conflict. J Cogn Neurosci 29:137-149
Chiu, Yu-Chin; Egner, Tobias (2017) Cueing cognitive flexibility: Item-specific learning of switch readiness. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 43:1950-1960

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