Neural mechanisms of planning: A computational analysis using event-related fMRI

Jon M. Fincham, Cameron S Carter, Vincent Van Veen, V. Andrew Stenger, John R. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


To investigate the neural mechanisms of planning, we used a novel adaptation of the Tower of Hanoi (TOH) task and event-related functional MRI. Participants were trained in applying a specific strategy to an isomorph of the five-disk TOH task. After training, participants solved novel problems during event-related functional MRI. A computational cognitive model of the task was used to generate a reference time series representing the expected blood oxygen level-dependent response in brain areas involved in the manipulation and planning of goals. This time series was used as one term within a general linear modeling framework to identify brain areas in which the time course of activity varied as a function of goal-processing events. Two distinct time courses of activation were identified, one in which activation varied parametrically with goal-processing operations, and the other in which activation became pronounced only during goal-processing intensive trials. Regions showing the parametric relationship comprised a fronto-parietal system and include right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [Brodmann's area (BA 9)], bilateral parietal (BA 40/7), and bilateral premotor (BA 6) areas. Regions preferentially engaged only during goal-intensive processing include left inferior frontal gyrus (BA 44). The implications of these results for the current model, as well as for our understanding of the neural mechanisms of planning and functional specialization of the prefrontal cortex, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3346-3351
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 5 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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