Double dissociation of the roles of the left and right prefrontal cortices in anticipatory regulation of action

S. K. Ries, I. Greenhouse, Nina Dronkers, K. Y. Haaland, R. T. Knight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Recent actions can benefit or disrupt our current actions and the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to play a major role in the regulation of these actions before they occur. The left PFC has been associated with overcoming interference from past events in the context of language production and working memory. The right PFC, and especially the right IFG, has been associated with preparatory inhibition processes. But damage to the right PFC has also been associated with impairment in sustaining actions in motor intentional disorders. Moreover, bilateral dorsolateral PFC has been associated with the ability to maintain task-sets, and improve the performance of current actions based on previous experience. However, potential hemispheric asymmetries in anticipatory regulation of action have not yet been delineated. In the present study, patients with left (n=7) vs. right (n=6) PFC damage due to stroke and 14 aged- and education-matched controls performed a picture naming and a verbal Simon task (participants had to say "right" or "left" depending on the color of the picture while ignoring its position). In both tasks, performance depended on the nature of the preceding trial, but in different ways. In the naming task, performance decreased if previous pictures were from the same rather than from different semantic categories (i.e., semantic interference effect). In the Simon task, performance was better for both compatible (i.e., response matching the position of the stimulus) and incompatible trials when preceded by a trial of the same compatibility (i.e. Gratton effect) relative to sequential trials of different compatibility. Left PFC patients were selectively impaired in picture naming; they had an increased semantic interference effect compared to both right PFC patients and aged-matched controls. Conversely, right PFC patients were selectively impaired in the Simon task compared to controls or left PFC patients; they showed no benefit when sequential trials were compatible (cC vs. iC trials) or a decreased Gratton effect. These results provide evidence for a double dissociation between left and right PFC in the anticipatory regulation of action. Our results are in agreement with a preponderant role of the left PFC in overcoming proactive interference from competing memory representations and provide evidence that the right PFC, plays a role in sustaining goal-directed actions consistent with clinical data in right PFC patients with motor intentional disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-225
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Gratton effect
  • Hemispheric differences
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Proactive control
  • Semantic interference effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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