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Trends Cogn Sci. 2010 Apr;14(4):172-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.01.004. Epub 2010 Feb 18.

The multiple-demand (MD) system of the primate brain: mental programs for intelligent behaviour.

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MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK. <>


A common or multiple-demand (MD) pattern of frontal and parietal activity is associated with diverse cognitive demands, and with standard tests of fluid intelligence. In intelligent behaviour, goals are achieved by assembling a series of sub-tasks, creating structured mental programs. Single cell and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data indicate a key role for MD cortex in defining and controlling the parts of such programs, with focus on the specific content of a current cognitive operation, rapid reorganization as mental focus is changed, and robust separation of successive task steps. Resembling the structured problem-solving of symbolic artificial intelligence, the mental programs of MD cortex appear central to intelligent thought and action.

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