Task constraints modulate activation in right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex

Oshin Vartanian, Vinod Goel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Lesion data suggest that right prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a critical role in open-ended problem solving. To test this hypothesis, we scanned fifteen normal subjects with fMRI as they completed three types of anagram problems varying in the level of constraints placed on the search space. On unconstrained trials, they rearranged letters to generate solutions (e.g., Can you make a "Word with ZJAZ?"). On semantically constrained trials, they rearranged letters to generate solutions within particular semantic categories (e.g., Can you make a type of "Music with ZJAZ?"). On baseline trials, they rearranged letters to make specific words (e.g., Can you make the word "JAZZ with ZJAZ?"). As predicted, the critical comparison of unconstrained vs. semantically constrained trials revealed significant activation in right ventral lateral PFC, as well as left superior frontal gyrus, frontopolar cortex, right superior parietal lobe, right post central gyrus, and the occipital-parietal sulcus. Furthermore, activation in right ventral lateral PFC (BA 47) increased as the constraints placed on the anagram search space were reduced. We argue that the activation in right ventral lateral PFC is related to hypothesis generation in unconstrained settings, whereas activation in other structures is related to additional processes linked to anagram problems such as semantic retrieval, semantic categorization, and cognitive monitoring. These results extend the lesion data and imaging studies by demonstrating that a relative absence of constraints on the solution space is sufficient to engage right ventral lateral PFC in hypothesis generation tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-933
Number of pages7
JournalNeuroImage
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2005

Keywords

  • Anagram
  • BA 47
  • Frontal lobes
  • Hypothesis generation
  • Problem solving
  • Right ventral lateral PFC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology

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