Refreshing: A minimal executive function

Carol L. Raye, Marcia K. Johnson, Karen J. Mitchell, Erich J. Greene, Matthew R. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

154 Scopus citations


Executive functions include processes by which important information (e.g., words, objects, task goals, contextual information) generated via perception or thought can be foregrounded and thereby influence current and subsequent processing. One simple executive process that has the effect of foregrounding information is refreshing - thinking briefly of a just-activated representation. Previous studies (e.g., Johnson et al., 2005) identified refresh-related activity in several areas of left prefrontal cortex (PFC). To further specify the respective functions of these PFC areas in refreshing, in Experiment 1, healthy young adult participants were randomly cued to think of a just previously seen word (refresh) or cued to press a button (act). Compared to simply reading a word, refresh and act conditions resulted in similar levels of activity in left lateral anterior PFC but only refreshing resulted in greater activity in left dorsolateral PFC. In Experiment 2, refreshing was contrasted with a minimal phonological rehearsal condition. Refreshing was associated with activity in left dorsolateral PFC and rehearsing with activity in left ventrolateral PFC. In both experiments, correlations of activity among brain areas suggest different functional connectivity for these processes. Together, these findings provide evidence that (1) left lateral anterior PFC is associated with initiating a non-automatic process, (2) left dorsolateral PFC is associated with foregrounding a specific mental representation, and (3) refreshing and rehearsing are neurally distinguishable processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-145
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Executive function
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Refreshing
  • Rehearsing
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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  • Cite this

    Raye, C. L., Johnson, M. K., Mitchell, K. J., Greene, E. J., & Johnson, M. R. (2007). Refreshing: A minimal executive function. Cortex, 43(1), 135-145.