The multiple-demand (MD) system of the primate brain: mental programs for intelligent behaviour

Trends Cogn Sci. 2010 Apr;14(4):172-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.01.004. Epub 2010 Feb 18.


A common or multiple-demand (MD) pattern of frontal and parietal activity is associated with diverse cognitive demands, and with standard tests of fluid intelligence. In intelligent behaviour, goals are achieved by assembling a series of sub-tasks, creating structured mental programs. Single cell and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data indicate a key role for MD cortex in defining and controlling the parts of such programs, with focus on the specific content of a current cognitive operation, rapid reorganization as mental focus is changed, and robust separation of successive task steps. Resembling the structured problem-solving of symbolic artificial intelligence, the mental programs of MD cortex appear central to intelligent thought and action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Primates
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • User-Computer Interface*