Frontal Cortex and the Hierarchical Control of Behavior

Trends Cogn Sci. 2018 Feb;22(2):170-188. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2017.11.005. Epub 2017 Dec 8.


The frontal lobes are important for cognitive control, yet their functional organization remains controversial. An influential class of theory proposes that the frontal lobes are organized along their rostrocaudal axis to support hierarchical cognitive control. Here, we take an updated look at the literature on hierarchical control, with particular focus on the functional organization of lateral frontal cortex. Our review of the evidence supports neither a unitary model of lateral frontal function nor a unidimensional abstraction gradient. Rather, separate frontal networks interact via local and global hierarchical structure to support diverse task demands.

Keywords: cognitive control; executive function; frontal lobes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Social Dominance*