The Brain's Learning and Control Architecture
Many brain-imaging studies are designed with the goal of isolating brain regions responsible for a specific mental function. The results, which reveal islands of activity scattered about the brain, can give the impression that the brain is just a disorganized collection of specialized processing centers. However, examination of how brain activity changes as a new skill is learned reveals a structured learning architecture composed of three hierarchically organized systems, each with a distinct role in learning and each characterized by a distinct pattern of learning-dependent plasticity. These systems are a representation system, which supports associative learning; a cognitive control network, which allocates attention during the execution of newly learned behaviors; and a metacognitive system, which guides the establishment of new behavioral routines, monitors the quality of ongoing behaviors, and oversees the transitions from one behavior to another. The combined involvement of these systems allows humans to learn rapidly and to flexibly transfer existing knowledge to novel contexts.