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Title: Typical and atypical functional specialisation within human prefrontal cortex
Author: Wu, H.-C.
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays an important role in a range of higher-level cognition including decision-making, social cognition, executing delayed intentions, and creative thinking. Previous studies have proposed a functional specialisation of the PFC region, and that this heterogeneity is associated with both structural and functional typicality between individuals. In order to examine this possibility, a reverse engineering approach was used to develop a PFC battery measuring behaviours relating to gambling, referential judgment, mentalizing, and faux pas detection. 107 typical-developing (TD) adults were recruited to establish the behavioural baseline, and identify the neural correlates of the measures in the PFC battery using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). The VBM analysis revealed significant relationships between different mental abilities and the size of different PFC sub-regions. Subsequently, 34 adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; a pathological group diagnosed with deficits on decision-making and social cognition) were tested on the new PFC battery. The results show that it provides new tools for detection of the ASD phenotype, and demonstrated the atypicality of ASD subjects when using single-case analysis. The thesis then turned to the functional specialisation of rostral PFC. A dissociation between lateral vs. medial rostral PFC activation was revealed when executing delayed intentions (the ability referred as prospective memory, or PM), compared with baseline ongoing activities. A novel PM paradigm for use with fMRI was designed to examine the specificity of PM cues. The results demonstrated the role that BA9/46 region plays in the detection of certain vs. uncertain future intentions. The final study examined cross-cultural differences in creativity, a cognitive ability thought to be substantially underpinned by frontal lobe structures. Matched adults from the UK and Taiwan were compared on adapted version of standard measures of creativity. Cross-cultural differences were found on the novelty aspect of the creativity, but not on the usefulness aspect, which seemed to reflect different Eastern vs. Western self-construal. Altogether, the thesis used a range of approaches to highlight functional and structural variation within the PFC region and the mental abilities it supports, demonstrating some principles of organisation that exist across individuals, but also differences between individuals, and between populations of individuals.
Supervisor: Burgess, P. W. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available