Dissociating Executive Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex [and Discussion]

T. W. Robbins, D. Weinberger, J. G. Taylor, R. G. Morris


An analysis is provided of three distinct paradigms that have been used to study executive functions of the prefrontal cortex involving planning, self-ordered memory or attentional set-shifting. Psychological and anatomical dissociations are sought from the perspective of studies of patients with frontal lobe lesions, functional neuroimaging, psychometric studies in normal volunteers and experimental studies in non-human primates. Particular attention is paid to attempts to dissociate mnemonic from other executive capacities. Thus, patients with frontal damage are shown to have deficits in their (1) use of strategies to improve performance in a spatial working memory task and (2) capacity to make an extra-dimensional shift due to a high-order failure of inhibition in an attentional set-shifting paradigm. These results are discussed in terms of anatomical and neuropharmacological dissociations of different aspects of executive function within the prefrontal cortex shown in monkeys.