Prefrontal cortex and flexible cognitive control: Rules without symbols

Nicolas P. Rougier, David C. Noelle, Todd S. Braver, Jonathan D. Cohen, Randall C. O'Reilly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

297 Scopus citations


Human cognitive control is uniquely flexible and has been shown to depend on prefrontal cortex (PFC). But exactly how the biological mechanisms of the PFC support flexible cognitive control remains a profound mystery. Existing theoretical models have posited powerful task-specific PFC representations, but not how these develop. We show how this can occur when a set of PFC-specific neural mechanisms interact with breadth of experience to self organize abstract rule-like PFC representations that support flexible generalization in novel tasks. The same model is shown to apply to benchmark PFC tasks (Stroop and Wisconsin card sorting), accurately simulating the behavior of neurologically intact and frontally damaged people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7338-7343
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 17 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Abstraction
  • Adaptive gating
  • Generalization


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