Royal Society Publishing

The prefrontal cortex: categories, concepts and cognition

Earl K. Miller , David J. Freedman , Jonathan D. Wallis


The ability to generalize behaviour–guiding principles and concepts from experience is key to intelligent, goal–directed behaviour. It allows us to deal efficiently with a complex world and to adapt readily to novel situations. We review evidence that the prefrontal cortex—the cortical area that reaches its greatest elaboration in primates—plays a central part in acquiring and representing this information. The prefrontal cortex receives highly processed information from all major forebrain systems, and neurophysiological studies suggest that it synthesizes this into representations of learned task contingencies, concepts and task rules. In short, the prefrontal cortex seems to underlie our internal representations of the ‘rules of the game’. This may provide the necessary foundation for the complex behaviour of primates, in whom this structure is most elaborate.