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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Sep 16;100(19):11171-5. Epub 2003 Sep 4.

Dissociable neural mechanisms underlying response-based and familiarity-based conflict in working memory.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 525 East University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109, USA.


Cognitive control requires the resolution of interference among competing and potentially conflicting representations. Such conflict can emerge at different points between stimulus input and response generation, with the net effect being that of compromising performance. The goal of this article was to dissociate the neural mechanisms underlying different sources of conflict to elucidate the architecture of the neural systems that implement cognitive control. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a verbal working memory task (item recognition), we examined brain activity related to two kinds of conflict with comparable behavioral consequences. In a trial of our item-recognition task, participants saw four letters, followed by a retention interval, and a probe letter that did or did not match one of the letters held in working memory (positive probe and negative probe, respectively). On some trials, conflict arose solely because of the current negative probe having a high familiarity, due to its membership in the immediately preceding trial's target set. On other trials, additional conflict arose because of the current negative probe having also been a positive probe on the immediately preceding trial, producing response-level conflict. Consistent with previous work, conflict due to high familiarity was associated with left prefrontal activation, but not with anterior cingulate activation. The response-conflict condition, when compared with high-familiarity conflict trials, was associated with anterior cingulate cortex activation, but with no additional left prefrontal activation. This double dissociation points to differing contributions of specific cortical areas to cognitive control, which are based on the source of conflict.

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