Context-dependent switching between proactive and reactive working memory control mechanisms in the right inferior frontal gyrus

Neuroimage. 2012 Nov 15;63(3):1552-60. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.08.016. Epub 2012 Aug 11.


A critical feature of higher cognitive functioning is the capacity to flexibly tailor information processing and behaviors to current situational demands. Recent neurocognitive models have been postulated to account for the dynamic nature of human executive processing by invoking two dissociable cognitive control modes, proactive and reactive control. These may involve partially overlapping, but temporally distinct neural implementation in the prefrontal cortex. Prior brain imaging studies exploring proactive control have mainly used tasks requiring only information about single-items to be retained over unfilled delays. Whether proactive control can also be utilized to facilitate performance in more complex working memory tasks, in which concurrent processing of intervening items and updating is mandatory during contextual cue maintenance remains an open question. To examine this issue and to elucidate the extent to which overlapping neural substrates underlie proactive and reactive control we used fMRI and a modified verbal 3-back paradigm with embedded cues predictive of high-interference trials. This task requires context information to be retained over multiple intervening trials. We found that performance improved with item-specific cues predicting forthcoming lures despite increased working memory load. Temporal dynamics of activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus suggest flexible switching between proactive and reactive control in a context-dependent fashion, with greater sustained responses elicited in the 3-back task involving context maintenance of cue information and greater transient responses elicited in the 3-back task absent of cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Young Adult