Effects of cue focality on the neural mechanisms of prospective memory: A meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies

Sci Rep. 2016 May 17;6:25983. doi: 10.1038/srep25983.


Remembering to execute pre-defined intentions at the appropriate time in the future is typically referred to as Prospective Memory (PM). Studies of PM showed that distinct cognitive processes underlie the execution of delayed intentions depending on whether the cue associated with such intentions is focal to ongoing activity processing or not (i.e., cue focality). The present activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis revealed several differences in brain activity as a function of focality of the PM cue. The retrieval of intention is supported mainly by left anterior prefrontal cortex (Brodmann Area, BA 10) in nonfocal tasks, and by cerebellum and ventral parietal regions in focal tasks. Furthermore, the precuneus showed increased activation during the maintenance phase of intentions compared to the retrieval phase in nonfocal tasks, whereas the inferior parietal lobule showed increased activation during the retrieval of intention compared to maintenance phase in the focal tasks. Finally, the retrieval of intention relies more on the activity in anterior cingulate cortex for nonfocal tasks, and on posterior cingulate cortex for focal tasks. Such focality-related pattern of activations suggests that prospective remembering is mediated mainly by top-down and stimulus-independent processes in nonfocal tasks, whereas by more automatic, bottom-up, processes in focal tasks.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reaction Time