Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Are PFC Neurons Tuned to High Complexity?

Why are the receptive fields for neurons in the PFC so “complex?” Is it simply because they normally fire for longer and thus have been able to become more broadly tuned to temporally discontinuous occurrences? If this is so, PFC neurons then would be like listeners who were able to overhear an entire lecture, instead of just snippets from it. Surely the longer a neuron fires the more time it has to “fire together and wire together” with other neurons. The high tonicity found in PFC neurons, combined with their high connectivity throughout the brain, must lead them to become maximally excited by events that do not always occur together immediately in time. In other words, their prolonged activation allows them to capture time-delayed pairings unlike other more transiently active neurons that can only capture simultaneous pairings.

Yet, how does an organism with a PFC know which nonsimultaneous, temporally discontinuous associations are valid? Where do humans get the rationale from to make these kinds of links between topics? Well, it is very clear that the PFC comes online very slowly during early childhood development. Perhaps we spend a good deal of early time without the PFC making associations between nearly simultaneous occurrences. This early knowledge base allows us the environmental logic to be able to infer higher order associations in late childhood, adolescence and adulthood. 

Read the full article that I wrote on this topic here:

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