The prefrontal cortex and conscious monitoring of action: an experimental study

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(6):655-65. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00225-7.


To investigate the role of the prefrontal cortex in conscious monitoring, we used an experimental paradigm generating a conflict between the action planned and the sensory-motor feedback. We analyzed the acquisition of explicit knowledge of the strategy for resolving the conflict and its influence on motor adaptation. Twenty patients with frontal lobe lesions and 18 controls had to trace a sagittal line with a stylus on a graphics tablet. A mirror on which the traced line, processed by a computer, was projected hid the hand. A mask limited visual feedback to the last third of the trajectory. Without informing the subjects, the line traced was modified by introducing a bias of 24 degrees to the right. To succeed in the task, subjects had to modify their motor program and to deviate their trajectory in the opposite direction. Conscious elaboration of the strategy was evaluated by the number of trials needed to explicitly report the required deviation. Three groups of patients were distinguished: (1). with normal explicit strategy; (2). with delayed explicit strategy, and (3). without explicit strategy at the last trial. They significantly differed by the severity of the dysexecutive syndrome, particularly of environmental adherence. Motor adaptation was evaluated by the area between the line traced and the ideal line to compensate for the deviation. In patients with normal elaboration of the strategy, motor control was similar to that of controls, but it was severely disturbed in the other two groups. These results suggest the involvement of the prefrontal cortex in conscious motor monitoring.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Awareness*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology
  • Brain Diseases / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Semantics
  • Task Performance and Analysis