Cognitive and Motivational Functions of the Human Prefrontal Cortex

Citation: Van Snellenberg, J.X. & Wager, T.D. (2009). Cognitive and Motivational Functions of the Human Prefrontal Cortex. In: E. Goldberg and D. Bougakov, (Eds.), Luria's Legacy in the 21st Century.

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The decades since Luria's seminal work in neuropsychology have brought tremendous advances in the understanding of prefrontal cortex (PFC) function. This chapter reviews meta-analytic, functional neuroimaging, and other neuropsychological and neuroscience data in order to discuss the putative functions of a set of PFC regions involved in cognition, motivation, and emotion. It is argued that PFC function is best understood by looking at the involvement of specific regions across a wide range of tasks, rather than restricting interpretations of function to specific task domains (e.g. working memory, task switching, etc.). In this light, processing in PFC is proposed to be roughly hierarchical, with posterior PFC regions being involved in motor response selection while more anterior regions carry out a set of specific higher-order processes commonly associated with working- and long-term memory tasks. Finally, orbitofrontal cortex and ventromedial PFC are involved in specific aspects of emotion processing.