Dissociation Of working memory from decision making within the human prefrontal cortex

J Neurosci. 1998 Jan 1;18(1):428-37. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.18-01-00428.1998.


We tested the hypothesis that cognitive functions related to working memory (assessed with delay tasks) are distinct from those related to decision making (assessed with a gambling task), and that working memory and decision making depend in part on separate anatomical substrates. Normal controls (n = 21), subjects with lesions in the ventromedial (VM) (n = 9) or dorsolateral/high mesial (DL/M) prefrontal cortices (n = 10), performed on (1) modified delay tasks that assess working memory and (2) a gambling task designed to measure decision making. VM subjects with more anterior lesions (n = 4) performed defectively on the gambling but not the delay task. VM subjects with more posterior lesions (n = 5) were impaired on both tasks. Right DL/M subjects were impaired on the delay task but not the gambling task. Left DL/M subjects were not impaired on either task. The findings reveal a cognitive and anatomic double dissociation between deficits in decision making (anterior VM) and working memory (right DL/M). This presents the first direct evidence of such effects in humans using the lesion method and underscores the special importance of the VM prefrontal region in decision making, independent of a direct role in working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Gambling
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology