Challenging the supremacy of the frontal lobe: early views (1906-1909) of Christfried Jakob on the human cerebral cortex

Cortex. 2012 Jan;48(1):15-25. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2011.01.001. Epub 2011 Jan 21.


This article focuses on a series of six studies that address functional localization in the frontal lobe; they were published in Argentina between 1906 and 1909 by Christfried Jakob (1866-1956), one of the great thinkers in early 20th century neuropathology and neurophilosophy. At that time, the localization-holism controversy was at a peak, having been triggered by the historic Marie-Déjerine aphasiology debate. Jakob held the view that constitutive physiological elements of cognition are localized. Nonetheless, he cast doubt on phrenological approaches that considered the frontal lobe as 'superior' to the other cortical regions. Jakob studied the human frontal lobe from fetal life through senility, in normality and pathology, including tumors, injuries, softening, general paralysis and dementia. Based on those finds, he considered strict localization theories a dead-end. Taking a critical look at Flechsig's ideas on the parallel ontogenies of frontal association centers and intellect, Jakob argued that the frontal lobe does not carry any selective advantage over the remaining human cerebral lobes or even over the frontal lobe in non-human primates. Regarding lesion experiments in laboratory animals, he pointed to methodological caveats, such as insufficient recovery time, that may lead to disorientating conclusions, and rejected élite brain research, calling it superficial and inexact. Jakob was convinced that the verification of the anatomical connections of the frontal lobe would elucidate its functions. Thus, he viewed the frontal lobe as a central station receiving input via olfactory pathways and thalamic radiations, pertinent to muscular and cutaneous senses, and attributed a perceptive character to a brain region traditionally associated with productive functions. Modern neuroscience seems to support Jakob's rejection of distinguishable motor and sensory regions and to adopt a cautious stance concerning oversimplified localization views.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atlases as Topic
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Medical Illustration
  • Neurology / history*
  • Phylogeny

Personal name as subject

  • Christfried Jakob