The role of prefrontal cortex in cognitive flexibility and control

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In a complex and changing environment, the validity of rules or goals might change in terms of their associated reward and cost, and we often face the necessity to make a strategic decision to adaptively shift between these behavioural rules or goals. Such a decision entails assessment of the value (cost and benefit) of current and alternative rules or reward resources for the individual, and also for the group, in socially advanced species. Cognitive abilities such as flexibility in adapting to a changing environment and adaptive foraging to seek a better environment might depend on such cognitive functions that enable a thorough assessment of the value of different options and a proper and timely decision to choose the most appropriate goal. A distributed neural network involving prefrontal and medial frontal cortices regulates the use of cognitive resources to optimize exploitation of current reward resources, while minimizing the associated cost. This is referred to as executive control of goal directed behaviour. Recent studies suggest that dorsolateral prefrontal, orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortices are involved in optimizing the exploitation of the current reward sources however, the most rostral part of the prefrontal cortex (frontopolar cortex) plays a crucial role in adjusting the tendency for exploitation, versus exploration of other alternative resources, by assessing the value of alternative tasks/goals and re-distribution of our cognitive resources. Maintaining a proper balance between exploitation and exploration tendencies might be a fundamental cognitive ability necessary for foraging behaviour and cognitive flexibility in adapting to environmental demands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-82
Number of pages1
JournalJapanese Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2018

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