Isolating Rule- versus Evidence-Based Prefrontal Activity during Episodic and Lexical Discrimination: a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of Detection Theory Distinctions


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Abstract

Dorsolateral and frontopolar prefrontal cortices (PFCs) are often implicated in neuroimaging studies of memory retrieval, with this activity ascribed to controlled monitoring processes indicative of difficult or demanding retrieval. Difficulty, however, is multiply determined, with success rates governed both by the available evidence and by the nature of decision rules applied to that evidence. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, we isolated these factors by 1) contrasting different decision rules across matched evidence and 2) manipulating the level of evidence within a fixed decision rule. For identically constructed retrieval probes (1 old and 1 new item), same–different (are these different?) compared with forced–choice (which one is old?) decision rules yielded bilateral dorsolateral and right frontopolar PFC increases. However, these regions were unaffected when the available evidence was greatly lowered within forced–choice decisions. Thus, the regions were simultaneously sensitive to the type of decision rule and yet insensitive to the level of evidence supporting those decisions. Analogous lexical tasks yielded similar patterns, demonstrating that the PFC responses were not episodic memory specific. We discuss the mechanistic differences between same–different versus forced–choice decisions and the implications of these data for current theories of PFC activity during episodic remembering and executive control.

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