A Computational Model of Prefrontal Control in Free Recall: Strategic Memory Use in the California Verbal Learning Task
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Several decades of research into the function of the frontal lobes in brain-damaged patients, and more recently in intact individuals using function brain imaging, has delineated the complex executive functions of the frontal cortex. And yet, the mechanisms by which the brain achieves these functions remain poorly understood. Here, we present a computational model of the role of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in controlled memory use that may help to shed light on the mechanisms underlying one aspect of frontal control: the development and deployment of recall strategies. The model accounts for interactions between the PFC and medial temporal lobe in strategic memory use. The PFC self-organizes its own mnemonic codes using internally derived performance measures. These mnemonic codes serve as retrieval cues by biasing retrieval in the medial temporal lobe memory system. We present data from three simulation experiments that demonstrate strategic encoding and retrieval in the free recall of categorized lists of words. Experiment 1 compares the performance of the model with two control networks to evaluate the contribution of various components of the model. Experiment 2 compares the performance of normal and frontally lesioned models to data from several studies using frontally intact and frontally lesioned individuals, as well as normal, healthy individuals under conditions of divided attention. Experiment 3 compares the model's performance on the recall of blocked and unblocked categorized lists of words to data from Stuss et al. (1994) for individuals with control and frontal lobe lesions. Overall, our model captures a number of aspects of human performance on free recall tasks: an increase in total words recalled and in semantic clustering scores across trials, superiority on blocked lists of related items compared to unblocked lists of related items, and similar patterns of performance across trials in the normal and frontally lesioned models, with poorer overall performance of the lesioned models on all measures. The model also has a number of shortcomings, in light of which we suggest extensions to the model that would enable more sophisticated forms of strategic control.
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