Hemispheric specialization in human prefrontal cortex for resolving certain and uncertain inferences

Vinod Goel*, Michael Tierney, Laura Sheesley, Angela Bartolo, Oshin Vartanian, Jordan Grafman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations

Abstract

Uncertainty is a fact of life that must be accommodated in real-world decision making. Although it has been suggested that the right prefrontal cortex (PFC) has a special role to play in decision making under uncertainty, there is very little hard data to support this hypothesis. To better understand the roles of left and right PFCs in reasoning and decision making in situations with complete and incomplete information, we administered simple inference problems to 18 patients with lateralized focal lesions to PFC (9 right hemisphere, 9 left hemisphere) and 22 age- and education-matched normal controls. The stimuli were systematically manipulated for completeness of information regarding the status of the conclusion. Our results demonstrated a 2-way interaction such that patients with left PFC lesions were selectively impaired in trials with complete information, whereas patients with right PFC lesions were selectively impaired in trials with incomplete information. These results provide compelling evidence for hemispheric specialization for reasoning in PFC and suggest that the right PFC has a critical role to play in reasoning about incompletely specified situations. We postulate this role involves the maintenance of ambiguous mental representations that temper premature overinterpretation by the left hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2245-2250
Number of pages6
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume17
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2007

Keywords

  • Decision making
  • Frontal lobes
  • Indeterminacy
  • Lateralization
  • Lesions
  • Reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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