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Cereb Cortex. 2008 Nov;18(11):2674-85. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn027. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

A rational account of memory predicts left prefrontal activation during controlled retrieval.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


What is the role of the left prefrontal cortex in the controlled retrieval of learned information? We present a theory of declarative retrieval that posits that the amount of control exerted by this region during retrieval is inversely proportional to 1) the frequency and recency of previous experiences with the retrieved memory and 2) the associative strength between the current context and the retrieved memory. This theory is rational in the sense that it claims that declarative retrieval is highly sensitive to the statistical regularities in the environment. We demonstrate how our theory produces precise predictions of response time and neural activity during recall and test these predictions in an experiment that manipulates the frequency of previous experiences and the associative strength to the retrieval cues. Our findings suggest that the control process performed by the left prefrontal cortex directly reflects the demands of the environment on memory.

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