Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is central to flexible and organized action. Recent theoretical and empirical results suggest that the rostro-caudal axis of the frontal lobes may reflect a hierarchical organization of control. Here, we test whether the rostro-caudal axis of the PFC is organized hierarchically, based on the level of abstraction at which multiple representations compete to guide selection of action. Four functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments parametrically manipulated the set of task-relevant (a) responses, (b) features, (c) dimensions, and (d) overlapping cue-to-dimension mappings. A systematic posterior to anterior gradient was evident within the PFC depending on the manipulated level of representation. Furthermore, across four fMRI experiments, activation in PFC subregions was consistent with the sub- and superordinate relationships that define an abstract representational hierarchy. In addition to providing further support for a representational hierarchy account of the rostro-caudal gradient in the PFC, these data provide important empirical constraints on current theorizing about control hierarchies and the PFC.