Role of prefrontal and anterior cingulate regions in decision-making processes shared by memory and nonmemory tasks

Cereb Cortex. 2006 Nov;16(11):1623-30. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhj097. Epub 2005 Dec 28.


In the episodic retrieval (ER) domain, activations in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) are often attributed to postretrieval monitoring. Yet, right DLPFC activations are also frequently found during nonmemory tasks. To investigate the role of this region across different cognitive functions, we directly compared brain activity during ER and visual perception (VP) using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging. In the ER task, participants decided whether words were old or new, whereas in the VP task, they decided which of the two colored screen areas was larger. In both tasks, each decision was followed by a confidence rating. The main finding was that right DLPFC (Brodmann area 46/10) activity was greater for low- than for high-confidence decisions in both tasks, demonstrating a general role in decision making. Even when reaction times (RTs) were included in the model, confidence remained the significant predictor of activity, suggesting that right DLPFC is involved in discontinuous evaluation rather than in continuous monitoring. In contrast, activity in anterior cingulate cortex was not only greater for low-confidence decisions but also increased with RT, reflecting a role in continuous conflict monitoring. Overall, the results demonstrate how direct cross-function comparisons clarify the generality and specificity of the functions of various brain regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Visual Perception / physiology