The variable nature of cognitive control: a dual mechanisms framework

Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Feb;16(2):106-13. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.12.010. Epub 2012 Jan 12.


A core component of cognitive control - the ability to regulate thoughts and actions in accordance with internally represented behavioral goals - might be its intrinsic variability. In this article, I describe the dual mechanisms of control (DMC) framework, which postulates that this variability might arise from qualitative distinctions in temporal dynamics between proactive and reactive modes of control. Proactive control reflects the sustained and anticipatory maintenance of goal-relevant information within lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) to enable optimal cognitive performance, whereas reactive control reflects transient stimulus-driven goal reactivation that recruits lateral PFC (plus a wider brain network) based on interference demands or episodic associations. I summarize recent research that demonstrates how the DMC framework provides a coherent explanation of three sources of cognitive control variation - intra-individual, inter-individual and between-groups - in terms of proactive versus reactive control biases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Thinking / physiology*