Physiologic neuroimaging studies have shown lateralized regional increase in brain activity during cognitive tasks, but the hypothesis that such changes are correlated with task performance has not been tested directly. We examined cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes induced by cognitive tasks in relation to performance. CBF was measured with the 133Xenon clearance method in 34 normal right-handed young (age < 30) volunteers during resting baseline and during the performance of a verbal analogies and a spatial line orientation test. Performance measures included "speed" and "power" estimates of both activation tasks. Resting CBF was moderately correlated with performance. The correlations were slightly higher with activated CBF for verbal but not spatial performance. The degree of increase (task-baseline) did not correlate with performance for either task. The highest and topographically specific correlations were obtained between laterality of CBF and verbal performance. Higher left hemispheric activation was correlated with verbal performance, and this correlation was significantly higher in the angular gyrus region. For the spatial task the correlations were with relatively higher right hemispheric activation but without regional specificity. The results underscore the importance of integrating behavioral performance data with physiologic measures in neuroimaging activation studies.