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Journal Article

Hierarchical processing in the prefrontal cortex in a variety of cognitive domains


Jeon,  Hyeon-Ae
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Jeon, H.-A. (2014). Hierarchical processing in the prefrontal cortex in a variety of cognitive domains. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8: 223. doi:10.3389/fnsys.2014.00223.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0024-2C21-E
This review scrutinizes several findings on human hierarchical processing within the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in diverse cognitive domains. Converging evidence from previous studies has shown that the PFC, specifically, BA44, may function as the essential region for hierarchical processing across the domains. In language fMRI studies, BA 44 was significantly activated for the hierarchical processing of center-embedded sentences and this pattern of activations was also observed in artificial grammar. The same pattern was observed in the visuo-spatial domain where BA44 was actively involved in the processing of hierarchy for the visual symbol. Musical syntax, which is the rule-based arrangement of musical sets, has also been construed as hierarchical processing as in the language domain such that the activation in BA44 was observed in a chord sequence paradigm. P600 ERP was also engendered during the processing of musical hierarchy. Along with a longstanding idea that a human’s number faculty is developed as a “by-product of language faculty”, BA44 was closely involved in hierarchical processing in mental arithmetic. This review extended its discussion of hierarchical “processing” to hierarchical “behavior”, that is, human action which has been referred to as being hierarchically composed. Several lesion and TMS studies supported the involvement of BA44 for hierarchical processing in the action domain. Lastly, the hierarchical organization of cognitive controls was discussed within the PFC, forming a cascade of top-down hierarchical processes operating along a posterior-to-anterior axis of the lateral PFC including BA44 within the network. It is proposed that PFC is actively involved in different forms of hierarchical processing and specifically BA44 may play an integral role in the process. Taking levels of proficiency and subcortical areas into consideration may provide further insight into the functional role of BA44 for hierarchical processing.