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Tracing Problem Solving in Real Time: fMRI Analysis of the Subject-paced Tower of Hanoi
Previous research has found three brain regions for tracking components of the ACT-R cognitive architecture: a posterior parietal region that tracks changes in problem representation, a prefrontal region that tracks retrieval of task-relevant information, and a motor region that tracks the programming of manual responses. This prior research has used relatively simple tasks to incorporate a slow event-related procedure, allowing the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response to go back to baseline after each trial. The research described here attempts to extend these methods to tracking problem solving in a complex task, the Tower of Hanoi, which involves many complex steps of cognition and motor actions in rapid succession. By tracking the activation patterns in these regions, it is possible to predict with intermediate accuracy when participants are planning a future sequence of moves. The article describes a cognitive model in the ACT-R architecture that is capable of explaining both the latency data in move generation and the BOLD responses in these three regions.