Cognitive control and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex: reflexive reorienting, motor inhibition, and action updating

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Apr;1224(1):40-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.05958.x.


Delineating the functional organization of the prefrontal cortex is central to advancing models of goal-directed cognition. Considerable evidence indicates that specific forms of cognitive control are associated with distinct subregions of the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), but less is known about functional specialization within the right VLPFC. We report a functional MRI meta-analysis of two prominent theories of right VLPFC function: stopping of motor responses and reflexive orienting to abrupt perceptual onsets. Along with a broader review of right VLPFC function, extant data indicate that stopping and reflexive orienting similarly recruit the inferior frontal junction (IFJ), suggesting that IFJ supports the detection of behaviorally relevant stimuli. By contrast, other right VLPFC subregions are consistently active during motor inhibition, but not reflexive reorienting tasks, with posterior-VLPFC being active during the updating of action plans and mid-VLPFC responding to decision uncertainty. These results highlight the rich functional heterogeneity that exists within right VLPFC.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Radiography
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*