The prefrontal cortex is implicated in such human characteristics as volition, planning, abstract reasoning and affect. Frontal-lobe damage can cause disinhibition such that the behaviour of a subject is guided by previously acquired responses that are inappropriate to the current situation. Here we demonstrate that disinhibition, or a loss of inhibitory control, can be selective for particular cognitive functions and that different regions of the prefrontal cortex provide inhibitory control in different aspects of cognitive processing. Thus, whereas damage to the lateral prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 9) in monkeys causes a loss of inhibitory control in attentional selection, damage to the orbito-frontal cortex in monkeys causes a loss of inhibitory control in 'affective' processing, thereby impairing the ability to alter behaviour in response to fluctuations in the emotional significance of stimuli. These findings not only support the view that the prefrontal cortex has multiple functions, but also provide evidence for the distribution of different cognitive functions within specific regions of prefrontal cortex.