Broca's area and the hierarchical organization of human behavior

Neuron. 2006 Jun 15;50(6):963-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2006.05.017.


The prefrontal cortex subserves executive control, i.e., the organization of action or thought in relation to internal goals. This brain region hosts a system of executive processes extending from premotor to the most anterior prefrontal regions that governs the temporal organization of behavior. Little is known, however, about the prefrontal executive system involved in the hierarchical organization of behavior. Here, we show using magnetic resonance imaging in humans that the posterior portion of the prefrontal cortex, including Broca's area and its homolog in the right hemisphere, contains a system of executive processes that control start and end states and the nesting of functional segments that combine in hierarchically organized action plans. Our results indicate that Broca's area and its right homolog process hierarchically structured behaviors regardless of their temporal organization, suggesting a fundamental segregation between prefrontal executive systems involved in the hierarchical and temporal organization of goal-directed behaviors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology