This study investigated the possibility that the previously mixed findings relating to cognitive deficits in Parkinson's disease might be attributable to inhomogeneity within the patients sampled, with attentional deficits occurring only for those Parkinson's patients who also have additional frontal lobe impairment. Twenty-five patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease were classified as showing frontal dysfunction, or not, on the basis of their performance on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the picture arrangement subtest of the WAIS. The two groups, and a control group of normal elderly subjects matched for age and IQ, undertook tests of visual attention designed to dissociate baseline response speed from central information processing speed. Error rates did not differ between the groups. Performance of the non-frontally impaired Parkinson's group was indistinguishable from that of the controls. By contrast, the 'frontally impaired' Parkinson's group responded significantly more slowly than the controls. Further analyses indicated that for the frontally-impaired Parkinson's group, information processing and automatic functions were unimpaired but there was a generalised slowing (as reflected by increased baseline response time) which may represent a non-specific global cognitive impairment. These findings suggest that the frontal lobes may be implicated in slowed response speed in Parkinson's disease.