The elusive nature of executive functions: a review of our current understanding

Neuropsychol Rev. 2007 Sep;17(3):213-33. doi: 10.1007/s11065-007-9040-z. Epub 2007 Sep 5.


Executive functions include abilities of goal formation, planning, carrying out goal-directed plans, and effective performance. This article aims at reviewing some of the current knowledge surrounding executive functioning and presenting the contrasting views regarding this concept. The neural substrates of the executive system are examined as well as the evolution of executive functioning, from development to decline. There is clear evidence of the vulnerability of executive functions to the effects of age over lifespan. The first executive function to emerge in children is the ability to inhibit overlearned behavior and the last to appear is verbal fluency. Inhibition of irrelevant information seems to decline earlier than set shifting and verbal fluency during senescence. The sequential progression and decline of these functions has been paralleled with the anatomical changes of the frontal lobe and its connections with other brain areas. Generalization of the results presented here are limited due to methodological differences across studies. Analysis of these differences is presented and suggestions for future research are offered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Human Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving / physiology*