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Cortex. 2014 Jan;50:76-85. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.08.011. Epub 2013 Aug 30.

Conflict adaptation in prefrontal cortex: now you see it, now you don't.

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Department of Psychology, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, South Korea; Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA.
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA; Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA.


Daily life requires people to monitor and resolve conflict arising from distracting information irrelevant to current goals. The highly influential conflict monitoring theory (CMT) holds that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) detects conflict and subsequently triggers the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) to regulate that conflict. Multiple lines of evidence have provided support for CMT. For example, performance is faster on incongruent trials that follow other incongruent trials (iI), and is accompanied by reduced ACC and increased DLPFC activation (the conflict adaptation effect). In this fMRI study, we explored whether ACC-DLPFC conflict signaling can result in behavioral adjustments beyond on-line contexts. Participants completed a modified version of the Stroop conflict adaptation paradigm which tested for conflict adaptation effects on the current (N) trial associated with not only the immediately preceding (N - 1) trial, but also 2-back (N - 2) trials. Results demonstrated evidence for direct relationships between ACC activity on N - 2 trials and both N trial DLPFC activity and behavioral adjustment when intervening trials were congruent (i.e., icI). In contrast, when N - 1 trials were incongruent (i.e., iiI), ACC-DLPFC signaling failed and conflict adaptation was absent. These results provide new evidence demonstrating that the conflict monitor-controller maintains previously experienced conflict in the service of subsequent behavioral adjustment. However, the processing of multiple, temporally proximal conflict signals takes a toll on the working memory (WM) system, which appears to require resetting in order to adapt our behavior to frequently changing environmental demands.


Cognitive control; Conflict adaptation; Prefrontal cortex; fMRI

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