To be successful in our daily life, we need to think and act strategically. For example, if you want to go to the mall to run errands, you must bring to mind not only a list of the items you need, but also which stores to find these items. Moreover, if you want to save time, you should consider the order you want to visit these stores in or where you should park relative to these stores. This type of strategic or cognitive control processing, which helps us structure our day, also structures our memories; allowing us to encode and retrieve information that is critical for our future actions. These cognitive control operations are dependent upon the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and my research uses psychological theory and convergent neuroscientific methods to address fundamental questions about how the PFC is structured and how it subserves memory processing.
The main aims of my research are: (1) To better understand the role of PFC in long-term memory (LTM), several of my experiments have identified how distinct cognitive control operations governing the strategic use of item and relational information promote distinct forms of memory and are supported by separable regions along the dorso-ventral axis of PFC. I have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and more recently transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to pursue this aim. (2) I am interested in using this item/relational framework to better understand the fundamental nature of cognitive control. Towards this aim, I am examining whether multiple forms of cognitive control abstraction exist and how they are represented along the rostro-caudal axis of PFC. I am currently testing these ideas using a combination of imaging approaches. (3) Because the mechanisms underlying cognitive control are constrained by and emerge from the anatomy of the PFC, I think it is important to integrate anatomical findings into my psychological theories. Towards this aim, I have developed new methods that I am currently using to investigate the topological structure of the macaque PFC.