Fincham and Anderson have examined the functional roles of two cortical regions important in learning and then carrying out a cognitive skill : one in the left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) that seems to reflect goal-relevant control demand, and one in the left prefrontal cortex (PFC) that reflects memory retrieval demand.
Fig. 1. Axial and saggital views of a). ACC (Brodmann's area 24/32 and b.) PFC (Brodmann's area 9/46), Note that the regions are left-lateralized.
Two slow event-related brain imaging experiments were conducted, adapting a cognitive skill acquisition paradigm. The first experiment found that both left ACC and left PFC activity increased parametrically with task difficulty. Using a slight modification of the same basic paradigm, the second experiment attempted to decouple retrieval and control demands over the course of learning. Participants were imaged early in training and again several days later, after substantial additional training in the task. There was a clear dissociation between activity in the left PFC and the left ACC. Although the PFC region showed a substantial decrease in activity over the course of learning, reflecting greater ease of retrieval, the ACC showed the opposite pattern of results with significantly greater activity after training, reflecting increased control demand.