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Reasoning and working memory: common and distinct neuronal processes


Knauff,  M
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Ruff, C., Knauff, M., Fangmeier, T., & Spreer, J. (2003). Reasoning and working memory: common and distinct neuronal processes. Neuropsychologia, 41, 1241-1253.

The neuronal processes underlying reasoning and the related working memory subsystems were examined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Twelve volunteers solved relational reasoning problems which either supported a single (determinate) or several alternative solutions (indeterminate). In a second condition, participants maintained the identical premises of these problems in working memory without making inferences. Although problems were presented in auditory format, activity was detected for both reasoning and maintenance in a network comprising bilaterally the secondary visual cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the medial anterior frontal cortex. In direct comparisons, reasoning was associated with stronger dorsolateral and medial prefrontal activation than maintenance, whereas maintenance led to stronger lateral parietal activation than reasoning. Participants’ visuo-spatial abilities (“Block Design” score) covaried positively with behavioral performance and negatively with activity of the precuneus for reasoning, but not for maintenance. These results support the notion that relational reasoning is based on visuo-spatial mental models, and they help to distinguish the neuronal processes related to reasoning itself versus to the maintenance of problem information in working memory. © 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.