Cognitive Control and Declarative Memory

Cognitive control processes permit an individual to access and work with internal representations in a goal-directed manner. In so doing, these mechanisms are thought to guide stimulus processing and the on-line maintenance of internal representations through the sustained allocation of attention to relevant stimulus features and long-term representations. Prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to be a component of the neural circuitry underlying cognitive control, though the nature of PFC functional organization remains poorly understood. Whereas some theories propose that a common control mechanism is instantiated across PFC, we have been accumulating evidence for a model of PFC function wherein anatomically distinct subregions in PFC support qualitatively different forms of control [e.g., Wagner, 1999; Wagner, Maril et al., 2001; Wagner, 2002; Bunge et al., 2003; Badre & Wagner, 2004; Bunge, Wendelken et al., 2005].

In addition to exploring the functional organization of PFC, our research advances the perspective that PFC-mediated mechanisms are not restricted to stimulus processing, working memory, and response selection functions. Rather, we emphasize how long-term memory formation and retrieval depend on the “control of memory.” To this end, we aim to identify and characterize the nature of the control processes that contribute to the encoding of memories and that guide the retrieval of existing memories. We emphasize that these processes are not “memory” mechanisms per se, but rather are fundamental forms of cognitive control that are engaged in the service of memory. Accordingly, we focus on the interplay between PFC-mediated control processes, long-term representations that are stored in posterior neocortical association areas, and binding and retrieval mechanisms subserved by the medial temporal lobes (MTL). Some of our efforts to understand mnemonic control include delineation of the PFC mechanisms supporting (a) controlled retrieval from semantic memory, (b) episodic memory formation, and (c) episodic retrieval with and without recollection.