Ventromedial prefrontal cortex mediates guessing

Neuropsychologia. 1999 Apr;37(4):403-11. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(98)00107-9.


Guessing is an important component of everyday cognition. The present study examined the neural substrates of guessing using a simple card-playing task in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Subjects were scanned under four conditions. In two, they were shown images of the back of a playing card and had to guess either the colour or the suit of the card. In the other two they were shown the face of a card and had to report either the colour or the suit. Guessing compared to reporting was associated with significant activations in lateral prefrontal cortex (right more than left), right orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, bilateral inferior parietal cortex and right thalamus. Increasing the guessing demands by manipulating the number of alternative outcomes was associated with activation of the left lateral and medial orbitofrontal cortex. These data suggest that while simple two choice guessing depends on an extensive neural system including regions of the right lateral prefrontal cortex, activation of orbitofrontal cortex increases as the probabilistic contingencies become more complex. Guessing thus involves not only systems implicated in working memory processes but also depends upon orbitofrontal cortex. This region is not typically activated in working memory tasks and its activation may reflect additional requirements of dealing with uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Nerve Net
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reference Values