The gateway hypothesis of rostral prefrontal cortex (area 10) function

Burgess, P.W., Simons, J.S., Dumontheil, I., & Gilbert, S.J. (2005). In J. Duncan, L. Phillips, & P.McLeod (Eds.) Measuring the Mind: Speed, Control, and Age (pp. 217-248).

One of the most fascinating puzzles in cognitive neuroscience concerns the functions of a large brain area known as the rostral prefrontal cortex (or Area 10). This is a sizeable brain region, which is especially large in humans compared with other animals, yet very little is known about what role it plays in cognition. This chapter contains three sections. The first reviews the existing empirical and theoretical evidence. The second presents a new theoretical account of its function that synthesises this evidence. The third describes a recent series of experiments in our laboratory, which demonstrate the plausibility of the theory. Rostral prefrontal cortex (rostral PFC) is identified as subserving a system that biases the relative influence of stimulus-oriented and stimulus-independent thought. This cognitive control function (and its product) is used in a wide range of situations critical to competent human behavior in everyday life, ranging from straightforward "watchfulness" to complex activities such as remembering to carry out intended actions after a delay, multitasking, and aspects of recollection. In everyday terms, these are situations that require one to be particularly alert to the environment, to deliberately concentrate on one’s thoughts, or involve conscious switching between these states.