Abstract

Past experience is hypothesized to reduce computational demands in PFC by providing bottom–up predictive information that informs subsequent stimulus-action mapping. The present fMRI study measured cortical activity reductions (“neural priming”/“repetition suppression”) during repeated stimulus classification to investigate the mechanisms through which learning from the past decreases demands on the prefrontal executive system. Manipulation of learning at three levels of representation—stimulus, decision, and response—revealed dissociable neural priming effects in distinct frontotemporal regions, supporting a multiprocess model of neural priming. Critically, three distinct patterns of neural priming were identified in lateral frontal cortex, indicating that frontal computational demands are reduced by three forms of learning: (a) cortical tuning of stimulus-specific representations, (b) retrieval of learned stimulus-decision mappings, and (c) retrieval of learned stimulus-response mappings. The topographic distribution of these neural priming effects suggests a rostrocaudal organization of executive function in lateral frontal cortex.

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