Article abstract

Nature Neuroscience 12, 515 - 522 (2009)
Published online: 1 March 2009 | doi:10.1038/nn.2277

Hierarchical cognitive control deficits following damage to the human frontal lobe

David Badre1,2, Joshua Hoffman3, Jeffrey W Cooney3 & Mark D'Esposito3,4

Cognitive control permits us to make decisions about abstract actions, such as whether to e-mail versus call a friend, and to select the concrete motor programs required to produce those actions, based on our goals and knowledge. The frontal lobes are necessary for cognitive control at all levels of abstraction. Recent neuroimaging data have motivated the hypothesis that the frontal lobes are organized hierarchically, such that control is supported in progressively caudal regions as decisions are made at more concrete levels of action. We found that frontal damage impaired action decisions at a level of abstraction that was dependent on lesion location (rostral lesions affected more abstract tasks, whereas caudal lesions affected more concrete tasks), in addition to impairing tasks requiring more, but not less, abstract action control. Moreover, two adjacent regions were distinguished on the basis of the level of control, consistent with previous functional magnetic resonance imaging results. These results provide direct evidence for a rostro-caudal hierarchical organization of the frontal lobes.

  1. Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
  2. Department of Psychology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
  3. Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA.
  4. Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA.

Correspondence to: David Badre1,2 e-mail:


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