The functional neuroanatomy of spontaneous retrieval and strategic monitoring of delayed intentions

Neuropsychologia. 2014 Jan:52:37-50. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.10.020. Epub 2013 Nov 5.


An intention stored in prospective memory (PM) for later execution can be retrieved either strategically through preparatory attentional processes such as active monitoring for PM targets or spontaneously through automatic retrieval processes when encountering a relevant cue. Using functional MRI to identify distinct brain areas involved in spontaneous retrieval of intentions and to dissociate them from monitoring-related processes, we compared brain activity in PM blocks in which subjects had to maintain and execute an intention in response to rarely occurring PM cues with blocks in which the previous intention had been completed. Although the PM task incurred performance costs in the ongoing task and was associated with increased block-related activation in the rostro-lateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC), performance costs and RLPFC activation were no longer observed after the intention had been completed, providing further evidence for an involvement of RLPFC in strategic monitoring during PM tasks. By contrast, event-related activation induced by PM cues was observed in the ventral parietal cortex (VPC), precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex even after the intention was completed. These activations are consistent with the notion of spontaneous intention retrieval possibly mediated through a bottom-up driven re-activation of intention representations still persisting in a heightened state of activation in episodic memory. In conclusion, the results highlight the functional relevance of VPC and precuneus in prospective memory retrieval, possibly reflecting spontaneous, cue-based processes as opposed to top-down controlled strategic monitoring.

Keywords: Anterior prefrontal cortex; Completed intentions; Intention; Prospective memory; Ventral parietal cortex; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors


  • Oxygen