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Distraction During Relational Reasoning: The Role of Prefrontal Cortex in Interference Control

A pair of hands working to solve a Rubik's cube puzzle.


Daniel C. Krawczyk, Robert G. Morrison, Indre Viskontas, Keith J. Holyoak, Tiffany W. Chow, Mario F. Mendez, Bruce L. Miller and Barbara J. Knowlton

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This study compared the performance of patients with frontal-variant frontotemporal lobar degeneration (fvFTLD) with that of temporal-variant FTLD (tvFTLD) and healthy controls. In FTLD, degeneration occurs in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, which impacts reasoning and problem-solving. This study focused more on the performance of fvFTLD, and since ftFTLD targets the frontal lobe—an area involved with attention and goal-oriented tasks—researchers hypothesized that tvFTLD patients are less likely to show impairments based on distraction. In turn, it was expected that tvFTLD patients would outperform fvFTLD patients when faced with distractions during a problem-solving task. In the first experiment, patients were tested using a picture analogy task with a multiple-choice answer format. In an experiment where distractors were present, fvFTLD patients performed the worst when compared to tvFTLD patients and healthy controls. In a second experiment where distractors were removed, fvFTLD participants demonstrated a relative improvement in performance. Overall, frontal-variant patients showed performance deficits in all tasks when compared with the other subject groups, which supports the researchers’ initial hypothesis. Evidence from the study demonstrates that one’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) must be intact in order to control incoming distracting information during a relational reasoning task.

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Daniel Krawczyk, PhD

Deputy Director of Research Debbie and Jim Francis Chair and Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences


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