The present study compares, using a double-blind, placebo controlled design the effects of two alpha 2-agonists, clonidine (0.5, 2, and 5 micrograms/kg) and guanfacine (7 and 29 micrograms/kg) on spatial working memory, planning and attentional set-shifting, functions thought to be dependent on the "central executive" of the prefrontal cortex. Blood pressure and the subjective feeling of sedation were affected equally by clonidine and guanfacine. The 0.5 microgram/kg and 5 micrograms/kg doses of clonidine disrupted spatial working memory, but the medium dose had no effect. The 0.5 and 2 micrograms/kg doses of clonidine increased impulsive responding in the planning test. The 5 micrograms/kg dose of clonidine slowed responding at effortful levels of planning and attentional set-shifting tests. The 29 micrograms/kg dose of guanfacine improved spatial working memory and planning. Guanfacine had no effect on attentional set-shifting. These data indicate that guanfacine improved planning and spatial working memory, but clonidine dose-dependently disrupted performance. It is possible that the greater selectivity of guanfacine for alpha 2A-adrenoceptor subtype may underlie its differences from clonidine.