Comparison of Human Infants and Rhesus Monkeys on Piaget's AB Task: Evidence for Dependence on Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex

Exp Brain Res. 1989;74(1):24-40. doi: 10.1007/BF00248277.


This paper reports evidence linking dorsolateral prefrontal cortex with one of the cognitive abilities that emerge between 7.5-12 months in the human infant. The task used was Piaget's Stage IV Object Permanence Test, known as AB (pronounced "A not B"). The AB task was administered (a) to human infants who were followed longitudinally and (b) to intact and operated adult rhesus monkeys with bilateral prefrontal and parietal lesions. Human infants displayed a clear developmental progression in AB performance, i.e., the length of delay required to elicit the AB error pattern increased from 2-5 s at 7.5-9 months to over 10 s at 12 months of age. Monkeys with bilateral ablations of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex performed on the AB task as did human infants of 7.5-9 months; i.e., they showed the AB error pattern at delays of 2-5 s and chance performance at 10 s. Unoperated and parietally operated monkeys succeeded at delays of 2, 5, and 10 s; as did 12 month old human infants. AB bears a striking resemblance to Delayed Response, the classic test for dorsolateral prefrontal function in the rhesus monkey, and indeed performance on AB and Delayed Response in the same animals in the present study was fully comparable. These findings provide direct evidence that AB performance depends upon dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in rhesus monkeys and indicates that maturation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex may underlie the developmental improvement in AB performance of human infants from 7.5-12 months of age. This improvement marks the development of the ability to hold a goal in mind in the absence of external cues, and to use that remembered goal to guide behavior despite the pull of previous reinforcement to act otherwise. This confers flexibility and freedom to choose and control what one does.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / growth & development*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Macaca / growth & development*
  • Macaca mulatta / growth & development*
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sex Factors