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Different accounts of the ventral and orbital prefrontal cortex (PFv+o) have emphasized either its role in learning conditional rules for action selection or the attentional selection of behaviorally relevant stimuli. Although the accounts are not mutually exclusive, it is possible that the involvement of PFv+o in conditional action selection is a consequence of its role in selecting relevant stimuli or that its involvement in attentional selection is a consequence of the conditional rules present in many attentional paradigms. Five macaques learned a conditional action-selection task in which the difficulty of identifying the stimulus relevant for guiding action selection was varied in a simple manner by either altering its distance from the action or presenting additional distracting stimuli. Simply increasing the spatial separation between the instructing stimulus led to slower responses. Experiment 1 showed that bilateral PFv+o lesions impaired conditional action selection even when attentional demands were kept to a minimum, but there was evidence that the impairment was exacerbated by manipulating stimulus selection difficulty. Experiment 2 confirmed the importance of PFv+o for conditional action selection even when stimulus selection difficulty was minimal. Experiments 3 and 4 demonstrated that the action-selection impairment was significantly increased by making identification of the behaviorally relevant stimulus difficult. PFv+o is central to the use of conditional rules when selecting courses of action, but conditional rules are also represented in premotor and striatal regions. A special contribution of PFv+o may be initial selection of behaviorally relevant stimuli.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





11628 - 11636


Animals, Attention, Conditioning, Operant, Macaca mulatta, Male, Photic Stimulation, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time