Executive functions

Handb Clin Neurol. 2019:163:197-219. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-804281-6.00011-2.


Executive functions (EFs) include high-order cognitive abilities such as working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, planning, reasoning, and problem solving. EFs enable humans to achieve goals, adapt to novel everyday life situations, and manage social interactions. Traditionally EFs have been associated with frontal lobe functioning. More recent evidence shows that posterior and subcortical regions also play a crucial role in EF processing, especially in the integration of sensory information and emotion. This chapter reviews the variety of EFs and their neural underpinning, based on lesion mapping and neuroimaging studies, as well as the evidence for rehabilitation interventions, neuropsychological assessment based on standard and ecologically valid tests, development, and genetic predisposition for recovery of executive functions after brain injury. Taken together, the EFs are critical for unique human abilities and more careful analyses of their subcomponents may help the development of targeted translational interventions to improve them.

Keywords: Executive functions (EFs); development; genetics; lesion mapping studies; neuroimaging; neuropsychological assessment; training and remediation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving / physiology