Although frontal cortex is thought to be important in controlling behavior across long periods of time, most studies of this area concentrate on neuronal responses instantaneously relevant to the current task. In order to investigate the relationship of frontal activity to behavior over longer time periods, we trained rhesus monkeys on a difficult oculomotor task. Their performance fluctuated during the day, and the activity of prefrontal neurons, even measured while the monkeys waited for the targets to appear at the beginning of each set of trials, correlated with performance in a probabilistic rather than a determinist manner: neurons reflected past or predicted future performance, much more than they reflected current performance. We suggest that this activity is related to processes such as arousal or motivation that set the tone for behavior rather than controlling it on a millisecond basis, and could result from ascending pathways that utilize slow, second-messenger synaptic processes.
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