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Costs and benefits of cognitive control: When a little frontal cortex goes a long way

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Prefrontal cortex is a key component of a system that enables us to regulate our thoughts, behaviors and emotions, and impairments in all of these domains can readily be observed when this cognitive control system is compromised. Here, I explore a somewhat less intuitive hypothesis, namely that cognitive control has costs, as well as benefits, for cognition. I will provide evidence from several experiments in which we manipulated frontally-mediated cognitive control processes using noninvasive brain stimulation of prefrontal cortex and observed the consequences for different aspects of cognition. Using this experimental methodology, we demonstrate the costs and benefits of cognitive control for language production and comprehension; learning and memory; and creative problem solving. I will suggest that this framework for thinking about cognitive control has important implications for our understanding of cognition in children prior to maturation of prefrontal cortex.


Sharon L. Thompson-Schill is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Davidson College in 1991 and her PhD in Psychology from Stanford University in 1996. Thompson-Schill’s lab studies the biological bases of human cognitive systems. She uses a combination of psychological and neuroscientific methods, in both healthy and brain-damaged individuals, to study the psychological, neurological, and genetic bases of complex thought and behavior, including topics in perception, memory, attention, language, personality and creativity. She is the Founding Director of Penn’s Mind Center for Outreach, Research and Education (MindCORE), the university’s hub for the integrative study of the mind, connecting researchers across the campus and with the community Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and has been recognized by numerous awards including the Searle Scholars Award, the Young Investigator Award from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and Psychonomic Society Mid-Career Award. Thompson-Schill is also an enthusiastic teacher of psychology and neuroscience, and she has won numerous local and national teaching awards, including the Women in Cognitive Science Mentorship Award and Penn’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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