Cognitive control and the anterior cingulate cortex: how conflicting stimuli affect attentional control in the rat

Date Published:

2015 Feb-Jun


Converging evidence supports the hypothesis that the prefrontal cortex is critical for cognitive control. One prefrontal subregion, the anterior cingulate cortex, is hypothesized to be necessary to resolve response conflicts, disregard salient distractors and alter behavior in response to the generation of an error. These situations all involve goal-oriented monitoring of performance in order to effectively adjust cognitive processes. Several neuropsychological disorders, e.g., schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity and obsessive compulsive disorder, are accompanied by morphological changes in the anterior cingulate cortex. These changes are hypothesized to underlie the impairments on tasks that require cognitive control found in these subjects. A novel conflict monitoring task was used to assess the effects on cognitive control of excitotoxic lesions to anterior cingulate cortex in rats. Prior to surgery all subjects showed improved accuracy on the second of two consecutive, incongruent trials. Lesions to the anterior cingulate cortex abolished this. Lesioned animals had difficulty in adjusting cognitive control on a trial-by-trial basis regardless of whether cognitive changes were increased or decreased. These results support a role for the anterior cingulate cortex in adjustments in cognitive control.